A three-year maintenance programme has been drafted to safeguard Cork’s landmark Shandon clock, which began ticking again yesterday for the first time in almost two years.
Horologist Philip Stokes, who oversaw a 10-week repair project on the famous 160-year-old mechanism, set it ticking from 9.30am.
He then stood at the base of St Anne’s church and watched anxiously as the clock struck 10am before its distinctive and much-loved chimes rang out across the city.
But Mr Stokes assured us that its renowned quirk which sees the four faces each telling a slightly different time — hence the ‘four-faced liar’ nickname — has been retained. “Given its age, the amount of gears, and the effect of the wind on the hands which can send a kickback through the gear mechanism, you will always have a slightly different time on each of the clock faces,” he said. “But we’ve tried to keep the time different to within two or three minutes.”
The clock atop the steeple — the internationally recognised symbol of the city — began grinding to a halt almost two years ago.
Community activist, Barry Keane, brought the issue to national attention through the Irish Examiner last November.
But a row over responsibility for the clock mechanism, and red-tape in City Hall stalled the sanctioning of funding to carry out much-needed repairs. Following months of negative publicity, City Hall finally agreed to release the funding in May, clearing the way for repairs to begin.
Mr Stokes, a Cork-based clock expert, moved on-site in June and began repairing the mechanism which is just a few inches smaller than the mechanism which drives London’s Big Ben.
Several wheels were damaged, several gears, some of which are up to three feet in diameter, had seized up, and several more had cracked under the strain of the hands.
The surround of a small window just under the hands on the northern clock face had partially collapsed, throwing the hands out of line and putting huge strain on the gears inside.
Mr Stokes dismantled and cleared the entire 2.5-tonne mechanism, reworked some gears, rebuilt others, and installed an improved electronic winding mechanism.
The damaged window was repaired and the gears to which the northern hands were attached were remade and replaced.
“Unfortunately, it just hadn’t been maintained regularly enough — which a clock of this age needs. It really does need to be checked a minimum of every two or three months,” he said.
“Wind gusts on the 100ft high clock face put immense pressure on the hands, sending huge kick-back through the gearing mechanism. And that will happen again.”
While the clock is keeping time again and the hourly chime is working, it will take another few weeks before the quarter-hour chimes will be heard across the city. Mr Stokes also cleaned decades of grime and some weeds from the clock faces, and cleaned the hammers and bells.
Some minor structural work still needs to be carried out; the timber numerals wrapped in folded copper; and the weathered hands, made from steel and copper and wrapped in gold leaf, will need attention in the coming years.
City officials have surveyed the entire clock mechanism and have prepared a three-year maintenance programme.
“For a 160-year-old clock, it’s in pretty good shape,” Mr Stokes said.
“They made them well, they made them to last. They just need to be loved and cared for.”
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