The Fortifications of Cork
Cork, Ireland, UK


The monastic settlement of Cork was founded (probably) in the sixth century AD, and the Treaty of Windsor (1175) established English King Henry II (1133-1189) as Ireland's ruling monarch. Cork was completely walled sometime in the Middle Ages, which kept its urbane, sophisticated inhabitants safe from Ireland's weirdly-speaking Gaelic locals.

Cork Harbour is one of several "second-largest natural harbors in the world," the undisputed first being Port Jackson in Sydney, Australia. The British Empire became what it was thanks in no small part to its navy, so it's no surprise that the Royal Navy had a warm place in its collective heart for Cork Harbour.

From about 1550 until 1938, England busily populated the city of Cork and its waterborne approaches with fortifications. In the interest of making everything as historically confusing as possible, all of Cork Harbour's major fortifications were renamed following Irish independence.

Click on any of the fortifications listed below to be taken straight to its description!




Fort Camden was built in the 1860's on the western side of the entrance to Cork Harbour, on a headland known as Ram's Head. The first fortification at this spot was James' Battery, which was built around 1550.

This battery was enhanced to the point that it was considered a "fort" when William's forces crept ashore and captured it during the Williamite War (1688-1691)...but that may have just been because it sounds so much more impressive to say, "we captured a fort!" than "we captured a battery!"

The ever ebbing-and-flowing threat from France caused the fortification, by this point known as Ram's Head Battery, to be upgraded to actual, official fort status at the end of the 18th century. The Royal Navy base at Kinsale, which had historically proven to be somewhat vulnerable to guys in ships, was moved to Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour. Fort Westmoreland was being built on nearby Spike Island, and the fortifications on either side of the entrance to Cork Harbour were felt to be in need of improvement. The fort of our current, if brief, interest was named Fort Camden at this time, after John Pratt, the 1st Marquess of Camden (1759-1840): Pratt was the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.


Ram's Head Battery, circa 1779

Camden Fort Meagher today, from the southeast

By the 1830's nobody cared much about defending Cork Harbour, and Fort Camden was used as a prison. The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom formed in 1859, however, and swiftly determined that Britain would be unable to defend itself should a well-equipped foreign power come a-callin'...the resurgent French Empire was of course the prime concern. This undertaking was headed by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), whose determination to fortify Great Britain for the modern age left us with a great many extremely interesting examples of the art of mid-19th-century fortification: Several "Palmerston Forts" were duly constructed around the ports of southern England in this period.

Fort Camden's massive overhaul began in 1861, with well over half of its new structures being built underground, so as to better withstand the sort of accurate, exploding ordnance of which they expected to be at the receiving end. The new Fort Camden covered 45 acres, and was built with convict, military and civilian labor.

Weaponry was upgraded in the 1880's and 90's, and larger, breechloading guns were mounted. A launching facility for the Brennan Torpedo, one of the world's first successful guided munitions, was built at Fort Camden at this time.

The hulking Fort Camden, as it marched resolutely into the 20th century

At the height of its mystical powers, Fort Camden was garrisoned by seven officers, over 200 men, and mounted around 20 guns. The Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the Irish War of Independence stipulated that Ireland's harbo(u)r defens(c)es remain in the hands of the British Army, but Fort Camden was finally handed over to the Irish military in 1938. The fort was manned during the First and Second World Wars, but no German U-Boats came out to play.

Sometime after the Second World War, Fort Camden was renamed Fort Meagher, after Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867), who had been a leader of the Young Irelanders, a nationalist group that staged a rebellion in 1848. This rebellion was less than successful, and Meagher was transported to Australia...but this enterprising fellow escaped in 1852 and made his way to the United States. Meagher enlisted in the US Army at the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865), and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. After the war he was appointed Secretary of State for the Territory of Montana, and drowned in the Missouri River in 1867. I'm not generally in favor of renaming starforts, but for this guy I'll make an exception!


Fort Meagher was used by the Irish military for training for a few decades, until the fort was handed over to the Cork City Council in the 1980's. Whatever positive attributes the Cork City Council may have had, caring for an old fortification was not one of them, and Fort Meagher deteriorated, unloved. 2010 saw the fort leased to the community of Crosshaven, volunteers from which worked to clear the fort and develop it for tourism.

Today diplomatically known as Camden Fort Meagher, the fort opened to visitors in 2014. Admission is €6 for adults and €4 for children, but Camden Fort Meagher is only open weekends and bank hoilidays: Good luck figuring out what a "bank holiday" is.


A series of temporary artillery batteries were spread around Cork Harbour, until Vice-Admiral of Munster (the name of the region of Ireland in which Cork Harbour wetly resides) Edward Southwell Jr. (1705-1755) commanded that a single fort be built along the north shore of the harbor in 1743. Cove Fort, as it became known, was a dandy starfort that was designed to defend the harbor's main shipping channel, as well as the naval yards on Haulbowline Island.

Though somewhat questionably placed (nearby higher ground would have spelled Cove Fort's doom had a determined, artillery-armed enemy shown up) and its landward side initially improperly shaped for defense, this fort was armed with a number of 24-pounder long guns, a reported twenty or so by 1811.



When Fort Westmoreland was built on nearby Spike Island in the early 19th century, followed by the enhancements of Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle at the mouth of Cork Harbour, Cove Fort was no longer necessary as a defensive entity.


A 1777 survey of Cove Fort shows gun batteries arranged on two levels, and a sad dearth of bastions covering its landward approaches.
By the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) Cove Fort was in use as a naval and military hospital, which function it retained, as Queenstown Hospital, through the First World War (1914-1918).

Cobh, the community in which Cove Fort was built, was the RMS Titanic's last port of call before it tragically sailed into history in 1912. The names of 123 passengers who boarded the ship at Cobh are enshrined on a monument in front of the fort.

Today, Cove Fort is home to a harbor pilot station and a Port of Cork operations building.


On the western side of the mouth of Cork Harbour, the location of Fort Carlisle (renamed Fort Davis) was recognized as a spot in need of fortification at least as early as the beginning of the 17th century, when some sort of armed tower, later known as Prince Rupert's Tower, was built thereupon. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Cumberland (1619-1682), gained renown as a Royalist cavalry commander during the English Civil War (1642-1651).



Whatever arrangement of fortifications and guns that had been collected there was known as King John's Fort by the time of the Williamite War (1688-1691)...just in time for William's forces, on their way to bombard Cork, to creep up from behind and capture the fort in 1690.

The 1790's saw some improvement to what may or may not still have been known as King John's Fort, and French prisoners of war were stored in the fort and its tunnel complex during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Fort Carlisle from across the entrance to Cork Harbour, from Fort Camden...sometime in the late 19th century.
Fort Carlisle finally became Fort Carlisle in the mid-19th century, named for Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle (1748-1825). Howard had been England's First Lord of Trade until 1780, when he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, which office he held for about a year and a half.

The Fifth Earl of Carlisle oversaw Ireland during what could have been a difficult period, with the bothersome ideas of the American Revolution infecting the populace and most British troops having been removed from Ireland to fight elsewhere...but the Carlisle period passed in peace, which was apparently enough of an accomplishment to name a starfort after him. Or, maybe they were looking for alliteration amongst their forts: Carlisle, Camden, Cove and...Westmoreland.

The addition of tons of concrete modernized Fort Carlisle in the 1860's, when all of Cork's defenses, and indeed many of Southern England's defenses, were getting a much-needed upgrade, thanks to the portentious rumblings of Napoleon III (1808-1873).

The First World War saw Fort Carlisle manned by the Royal Garrison Artillery Coastal Defence, and our fort was untouched by Ireland's War of Independence...although there are a number of graves within the fort that date to this period. Surely no one died of natural causes during the Irish War of Independence?

Great Britain retained control of Cork's harbor fortifications after Irish Independence, but eventually surmised that, in the event of war, Ireland might not be amenable to the British using these forts and keeping them supplied, so the hell with the things. Britain handed over all Treaty Port Installations to Ireland in 1938...at which time the Irish immediately renamed Fort Carlisle after Thomas Davis (1814-1845), who had been the "chief organizer" of the Young Ireland Movement. Sadly, Davis did not live long enough to enjoy the rebellion he "organized," which was abortively conducted in 1848.

Irish Defence Force troops train at Fort Davis, while studiously ignoring what I will cautiously identify as an L118 Light Gun.

More coastal artillery units manned the fort during "The Emergency," as Ireland refers to the Second World War. Today Fort Davis is owned by the Ireland's Department of Defence, and is used by the Irish Army a training site: As such it is not open to the public.





The port at Kinsale, about a dozen miles southwest from the entrance to Cork Harbour, was fortified by the English James Fort and Charles Fort) after a dastardly Spanish plan, in which Spanish forces would unite with the Irish, scour the English from Ireland and then use that island as a staging ground for an attack on England was foiled in 1601.

Sir George Carew (1555-1629), representative of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), was in charge of Cork and its environs, and ordered the construction of a fort in her name (which was Elizabeth) on the southern border of the city in 1601. This fort was intended not to keep the city safe from outside threats, but to monitor and control its notionally rebellion-minded inhabitants.

Elizabeth Fort remained a bastion of Corkian Englishness until the 1920's, and it has its own dedicated page on this very site! You may click on the words Elizabeth Fort to visit that page, or if that's too complicated, you could click on the fort's image above, or you could even click here if you wish.


Certainly the loveliest of Cork Harbour's defenses from a starfortilogical perpective, Fort Westmoreland (renamed Fort Mitchell) was built on Spike Island in the midst of the harbor, beginning in 1804.

Spike Island began it's period of military usefulness during the American Revolution (1775-1783), when Cork Harbour's defenses were enhanced. Spike Island Battery disuaded the American Navy from attacking Cork (maybe), and the stellar Fort Westmoreland took the battery's place in the early 19th century.



Fort Westmoreland is detailed on its own page at Starforts.com, which you may visit should you wish for this beautiful starfort's whole story.





Ringaskiddy Martello Tower. Is there a better word than Ringaskiddy? I submit that there is not.

Five Martello Towers were built for the defense of Cork at the beginning of the 19th century: These were Fota, Belvelly, Rossaleague, Haulbowline and Ringaskiddy.

The Martello Tower was a stout, two-story cylinder with a heavy gun at its top, which could be traversed through 360°. This relatively cheap alternative to building a more substantial fortification was popular with the British military through the 19th century, and their squat forms dotted the British Empire.

Cork's Martello Towers were armed and lightly manned until the 1860's. On December 26, 1867, five men burst into Fota Tower, surprising the two artillerymen and their families who were living therein.

The infiltrators made off with powder, shot and a couple of carbines, but left the gunners and their families unharmed. This event changed Cork's Martello Tower policy for good.

Recognized as the underguarded depositories of munitions in which Irish revolutionaries had a keen interest that they were, all five of these towers were disarmed and more or less abandoned in 1868.

Belvelly was used by the military as an observation tower during the First World War (1914-1918), but the towers' military import pretty much died in 1868. All have been repurposed in various ways since then: Haulbowline, on an island that has become an Irish Navy post, sported a fashionable iron water tank atop from 1868 until the 1990's, providing what must have been fresh and delicious water to Royal and Irish Naval vessels.

Ringaskiddy Martello Tower, from the Facebook page of the catchily-named Ringaskiddy Rights of Way Commission.

Once the rusty water tank had been removed, a period gun was reaffixed in its place, and today Haulbowline Martello Tower is a museum. Belvelly has been developed into a luxury home; Ringaskiddy, the biggest tower of them all, has gone through numerous rehabilitation attempts, but today sits and rots in a fetching manner.





At the dawn of the 20th century, the grand masonry fortification had been old news for 40 years, the starfort for nearly a hundred.


Small batteries of enormous, rifled guns could cover dozens of miles in all directions, effectively closing off the kind of harbor entrances that several forts had been needed to defend a century earler...and littoral defendin' was foremost in the military mind of this period, as everybody who was anybody was frantically building dreadfully dramatic dreadnaughts.

Cork Harbour's main defensive entities, Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle, were considered insufficient to the task of protecting the harbor into the Lovecraftian 20th century. Monsterous BL (Breech Loading) 9.2 Inch Mark X guns were thought to be just the thing to prevent the errant German, Frenchman or whomsoever from entering Cork Harbour, but mounting them in the existing fortifications would have been problematic, involving the construction of entire new batteries within the forts to support them. Thus Templebreedy Battery was born.


Wondering which hut was placed where at Templebreedy Battery? Wonder no more.

Named not for a person but its location, Templebreedy Battery was built from 1904 to 1909. Underground magazines, searchlights and machine gun positions made this a most modern defensive position. Housing for nine officers and 81 men were on site. A battery for two BL 6-Inch Mark VII guns was also built, but the guns were never mounted.

The battery was hanging out on a bit of a limb during the Irish War of Independence, its isolation leading to a number of attacks on its supply deliveries. As the IRA possessed no navy, it's easy to imagine that the men of Templebreedy Battery wondered what they were doing in such an exposed place.

Ireland found it unnecessary to rename Templebreedy Battery following independence, as it hadn't been named after a haughty Englishman in the first place. The battery was handed over to the country in which it sat in 1938, and Irish Defence Forces manned it, uneventfully, through the Second World War, after which conflict it was "largely" decommissioned. The big guns remained in place until the 1960's, and the Irish military consinued to utilize the site for training purposes into the 1980's.

Today, Templebreedy Battery looks to be an interesting warren of unarmed batteries and support structures. A "pitch and putt" golf course was established on the battery's grounds in the 1990's, which reportedly closed in 2005. Invented in the 1940's, "pitch and putt" appears to be golf, though on a much smaller scale, doing away with that annoying long-distance drive. Is it what we in the United States know as Miniature Golf? Of course not, pitch and putt is a real sport, for real sportsmen who for whatever reason can't handle real golf.

Corkshipwrecks.net's Martello Towers of Cork Harbour page
Wikipedia's Cork (city) page
Wikipedia's Camden Fort Meagher page
Wikipedia's Fort Davis page
Wikipedia's John Pratt, 1st Marquess of Camden page
Wikipedia's Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom page
Wikipedia's Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston page
Wikipedia's Thomas Francis Meagher page
Wikipedia's Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 page
Camdenfortmeagher.ie
Wikipedia's Fort Templebreedy page
Wikipedia's Cork Harbour page
Wikipedia's Cove Fort, County Cork page
Wikipedia's Cork Harbour page
Wikipedia's Henry II of England page
Wikipedia's Treaty of Windsor (1175) page
Wikipedia's Williamite War in Ireland page
Wikipedia's Edward Southwell Jr. page
Wikipedia's Haulbowline page
Wikipedia's English Civil War page
Wikipedia's Prince Rupert of the Rhine page
Wikipedia's L118 Light Gun page
Wikipedia's Fredeick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle page
Wikipedia's List of Chief Governors of Ireland page
Wikipedia's Napoleon III page
Wikipedia's Young Ireland page
Wikipedia's Thomas Davis (Young Irelander) page
Wikipedia's BL 9.2-inch MK IX-X Naval Gun page
Wikipedia's Pitch and Putt page