150 years of the Naas Town Hall Clock
The year to date has been one brimming with anniversaries mainly centered on the nation-building events of Easter 1916. For months there were parades, presentations and plaques all marking the centenary of what W. B. Yeats described as “the terrible beauty” of that tumultuous year in the evolution of modern Ireland. The indigenous anniversaries were paralleled by the sombre memorial events that marked the centenary of the barbaric carnage of the First World War as epitomised by the battle of the Somme when legions of young men were pulverised into the soil of France by the merciless machinery of modern warfare.
However among all the echoes of war and politics there are other anniversaries – of an altogether more genial kind – which have slipped beneath the radar. One notable birthday – brought to the attention of this column by the ever observant Cllr Seamie Moore — is the sesquicentenary of the Town Hall Clock in Naas which has been a central feature of the streetscape of the county town since it was erected in 1866. That’s a lot of ticking down the hours and minutes across 150 years in all seasons and weathers. The clock was erected by public subscription not long after the town’s first town council took up occupation of the building. The mechanism hidden deep in the loft of the Town Hall is a beautifully engineered contraption of cogs, fly-wheels, axels and balances fashioned from brass and steel. It is set in a cast iron frame bearing the name of “John Chancellor, Dublin” who was a well-known maker of municipal turret clocks in Victorian Ireland. Two weight driven pulleys drive the mechanism – one for the clock and one for the bell.
The hourly tolling was produced by a striker hitting the bell mounted in a louvered shelter on the roof. The bell too is hallmarked with the name of a Dublin foundry bearing the inscription “Sheridan, 1866”. Also inscribed on its parabolic profile is the Hibernian harp emblem of Ireland with the patriotic slogan “Éireann Go Brágh”. The bell is all but inaccessible in the Town Hall attic but a trip to Sallins will afford a ready view of the bell’s brother – also cast by the Murphy foundry and bearing identical inscriptions. The Sallins bell is mounted on a frame outside Sallins’ distinctive “tin church” or to give its ecclesiastical title – the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Guardian Angels.
The Naas clock has not been free of upheaval over the years. The façade of the Town Hall was reconstructed by John Eacret, local builder, in 1904. This involved setting the clock dial at a greater distance from the mechanism than had been the case in the original 1866 configuration. This in turn necessitated the installation of a longer spindle from the clock mechanism to the dials and it is this improvised linkage which has proven something of a weak link over the years. At one stage a town councillor frustrated by the clock’s occasional erratic behaviour told a meeting: “Passing the town hall clock is like crossing the international date line – it tells a time on one face, and then a different time on the second face!” However the clock has been the recipient of skilled conservation by horologist Julian Cosby (of the Stradbally Hall family) who has burnished up its cogs and gears and at 150 years of age the town’s “Old Father Time” is outliving the time-keeping abilities of any of its human critics.