The restoration of the unique town centre Youghal Clock Tower is expected to boost tourism locally as a major heritage attraction in east Cork.
It had closed as a damp, deteriorating, edifice in 1993, but now the building, straddling the main street, has reopened following an eight-year restoration project costing almost €700,000.
The tower was built as a gaol in 1777 on the site of Trinity Castle, a former gateway to the town.
The re-opening compliments the town’s uniquely preserved town walls and boosts its profile as a centre of major historic and heritage significance.
The building’s four floors have been refurbished and kitted out, and visitors can now experience guided tours that reflect the tower’s history as a merchant’s storehouse, a gaol, and a family home in the 1950s.
Tour guide Edel Ahern explained: “Goods were stored, prisoners jailed, rebels hanged, a family lived, and children were born here.”
Visitors also experience a unique view of the winding streetscape below. The restoration was initiated in 2008 by the former Youghal Town Council. It provided €60,000 grant aid and leased the building to the Youghal Socio-Economic Development Group as project overseers. Further funding from Secad, Cork County Council, and Fáilte Ireland, who include it on the Ireland’s Ancient East itinerary, emerged over the years.
Tours last about 40 minutes. They are essentially stories told in authentic settings and focused on incidents and personalities depicting the tower and the town’s history. Each guide has compiled their own storylines from research conducted by Cork historian Alicia St Leger.
The stories often reflect social, political and sectarian conflict. Locals were interred for minor misdemeanors but three 1798 Rebellion sympathisers were hanged from the tower, their dangling bodies a warning to others. It closed as a gaol in 1837.
John McGrath and his family became tower tenants in 1915, with responsibility for winding the clock, alerting fire services and announcing a death by its bell. The McGraths remained in situ through three generations with the former prison cells serving as chilly bedrooms.
The family living room is replicated and a video reminisce by the current John McGrath provides a captivating tour finale.
Locals are embracing the tours. “I’m so glad I came here. I walked past it every day without ever realising its history”, said impressed visitor Judy Ansbro.