Visual Narrative #012 – Napoleonic Watch Towers; Ireland

VN #012: Napoleonic Watch Towers; Ireland
Posted December 28, 2023


Napoleonic Watch Towers

In 2022 my wife, Rita, and I spent one month on Clare Island, Ireland, to explore family roots and photograph.

My sister, Jane, married the Irishman Tony O’Malley, who’s father was born on Clare Island. The island is considered the ancestral home of the O’Malley clan and it was Ellen O’Malley, a cousin of Tony’s, who lent us her cottage from which to explore.

Ancient stories

We soon discovered there was a Napoleonic watch-tower within 4km of where we were staying. With map in hand, we set off, wandering through a land of ancient stories. We could see the tower in the distance; the most westerly tip of the island.

Throughout the island, various arrangements of stones defining farming plots, Iron Age huts, and burial tombs, told us about communities dating back some 5,500 years. As Rita and I walked toward the watch-tower, we were overwhelmed by a sense of history.

In contrast, later that summer, Rita and I flew to a remote lake in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia to explore and photograph a completely unaltered landscape. It was a landscape recently revealed by receding glaciers; a land void of any human traces. In comparison to Clare Island (and the entirety of Ireland) it had never been inhabited.

The Clare Island watch-tower

This Napoleonic tower was built in 1804; one of many scattered south along the west coast of Ireland. They were built for the impending threat of a Napoleonic invasion during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Withstanding all weather

I returned several times to photograph the tower in various weather conditions. I wanted to capture a sense of what it would have been like to be a watchman there in the early 1800’s. They were the land versions of more recent lighthouse keepers.

Late-day light

Watchmen were also keepers of the light.

Modern-day watch-keepers


On watch by moonlight


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