Wednesday 7 December 2016

The clash of the clocks in one country town

Fiona O'Connell

Published 06/11/2016 | 02:30

Perhaps this resistance to socially imposed concepts on time - which is itself a construct - is actually a healthy instinct for humans.
Perhaps this resistance to socially imposed concepts on time - which is itself a construct - is actually a healthy instinct for humans.

Maybe it's a personal protest against the powers that be and their penchant for playing God, but it's taken me until today to put my clock back.

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I've still arrived where I had to be on time - but only by mentally subtracting an hour when I looked at my watch.

Perhaps this resistance to socially imposed concepts on time - which is itself a construct - is actually a healthy instinct for humans. After all, we're supposed to be smart mammals - not smartphones. (The advent of which have thwarted my tendency by updating automatically.)

Though smartphones could have resolved the fracas that ensued in one Irish town back in 1956, when the issue of Official Summer Time was so explosive that it caused divisions that hadn't been experienced since the Civil War. The only solution was the ballot box.

The fascinating tale is told in Kilkenny: People, Places, Faces by John Fitzgerald. It recounts how some employees of State-run services in Callan recognised Summer Time (mainly because they had no choice). So, too, did the bacon factory, a turf accountant, and a number of pubs. But the majority of residents observed Old Time, along with the schools, churches, county council workers and many businesses.

This led to "chaos and disorder occasioned by the operation of both Old and Official Summer Time", as a correspondent for a local newspaper wrote. "Confusion is widespread."

As if that wasn't bedlam enough, the nearby village of Mullinahone was 25 minutes behind Callan. A cyclist at the time recalled hearing the Angeles ring out three times as he passed from Kilkenny through Callan to Mullinahone. Apparently, the latter village observed what is called "God's Own Time".

The greatest opposition to change came from farmers, who feared that putting their clocks forward would upset their cows and result in lower milk yields. This, in turn, created a dilemma for shopkeepers, who could not afford to offend their best customers. The parish priest didn't exactly help matters, not so much sitting on the fence as sanctifying it, by backing the farming community even while emphasising in a sermon that people who observed New Time were not committing a sin.

A referendum day was set to resolve the conflict. But the weeks leading up to it were decidedly bolshie. One public meeting had to be cut short after fistfights broke out between Old Timers and New Timers. Calm was restored only when gardai arrived and the parish priest intervened. There were also heated exchanges and fisticuffs in the pubs, and people were often afraid to ask the time.

A huge crowd gathered in the streets to hear the result of the vote. "The ayes have it," Superintendent Egan confirmed. A rousing cheer went up from the 'Yes' camp, as groups of 'No' supporters shook their heads in disbelief. Less a case of "time heals all wounds" as time wounds all heels of Johnny-come-lately losers.

Sunday Independent

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