Monday, May 26, 2014

The Dummy Clock

I found the bell – thanks to Darren Rice - so now the story, as promised in my previous post.
In 1865 Thomas Ball, a local landlord, got his agent, Henry Brooke to install a clock in the Crossmaglen Marketplace, but he did it on the cheap. The clock was a dummy clock, built from oak, with absolutely no moving parts. It fast became an object of scorn. Since most small town residents did not possess either a wrist or pocket watch, Ball’s clock made them feel that their landlord thought that they were unworthy.

No self-respecting European town would be without its public clock, which tolled all citizens together to defend, to celebrate, or to mourn. The community that could focus its resources in a dazzling public clock was that much more of a community.
Daniel Boorstein in The Discoverers

Clocks in marketplaces were a not insignificant factor in the speed of the development of the industrial revolution in Europe. Since they were installed right in the middle of town centres, the gears were usually made and assembled in full view of the curious. The information impact of this was the equivalent of going viral. New information about how gears were made, and how they could be assembled in a range of configurations, infected the minds of young inventors. The gears and springs that moved the hands of the clock were then adapted to create the very machines that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution.

Not that this happened everywhere in the world. Part of why China lost its edge at the start of the Industrial Revolution, relative to Europe, was that their clock technology served only the needs of the Emperor. In China, the secrets of this technology were entrusted to eunuchs who were executed if they revealed them. As far as the Emperor was concerned, the purpose of the clocks was for him to time his visits with his hundreds of wives and concubines to ensure an astrologically suitable successor. When you have more than a hundred fertile women to keep track of, you don’t want the system gamed by others.

Clearly, it wasn’t only China that was left behind. So was Crossmaglen. A bit of doggerel, popular in the early 1900s, written by local teacher Michael Watters and tenant farmer Denis Nugent, immortalized this clock of Crossmaglen:

Your clumsy clocks must follow time, both minute-hand and hour,
But this great work has stopped time's course, and proved its magic power;
Now, sneer not cynic - 'tis the truth - time has not moved since when
This clock was placed amongst us in the town of Crossmaglen.

It has no wheels, it needs no weights, there is no tick or stroke,
'Tis not of gold or silver wrought, but good old Irish oak;
Yet stranger far than Strasbourg chimes, its hands at twelve past ten,
Full often fill with laughter wild the Square of Crossmaglen

Clearly, the insult of this wooden clock resonated deeply. TJ, who spent his childhood years on a farm on the outskirts of Crossmaglen, was attuned to what needed to be done. On May 31st, 1903, he had the old dummy clock removed, and a functioning one installed in its stead.

Sir Thomas came to Crossmaglen, it being his native town;
He ordered that this public fraud at once be taken down.

According to local lore, true or not, the Jackson clock was made of gold and silver. A local poet claimed that its bell could be heard as far as Carrickmacross in Co. Monaghan, to the west; Newry in Co. Down, to the north; and Dundalk in Co. Louth to the east  – all within a twelve mile radius of Crossmaglen. Such stories may stretch credulity, but it does give a sense of the importance of this clock, both practical and symbolic, to the townspeople of Crossmaglen.

Unfortunately, in July 1974, the bell on this clock tolled for the last time when the Marketplace building was bombed into oblivion. Most of the pieces of the clock were lost in the rubble, and even the cast iron bell was damaged.

It took a while for the community to regroup, but on September 1st, 1989, the bell was restored and put on show in the Greenroom of the Community Centre in Crossmaglen with an inscription.

As the schoolmaster who wrote the doggerel in the early years of the twentieth century said:

We talk of great physicians and Dr. William's Pills,
And Mother Regal Syrup as a remedy for ills;
But long live Sir Thomas Jackson - great laurels for to win,
He gave speech unto a dummy clock in the town of Crossmaglen.

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