BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Callan watchmender Owen Richardson knew where everything was to be found in his Bridge Streetshop. He adhered to his own kind of order and efficiency in the little universe that was his home and workplace.
He had a keen interest in current affairs, and listened closely to the BBC’s World Service in the early hours of the morning, to see how the latest war or political upheaval was progressing. In the 30s and 40s, when radios were scarce, people valued a few minutes in the shop to catch the news.
Philip O’ Keeffe, who lived nearby, loved to hear the voice of William Joyce (“Lord Haw-Haw”) on the old battery operated wireless. Owen Richardson and the young carpenter would sit quietly and listen to the drawling outrageous propaganda of the Galway man who drove the British wild with his nightly “Germany Calling” broadcasts from Radio Hamburg.
Though his clock in the window kept perfect time, townspeople had a habit of comparing the position of the hands on this timepiece with the Friary Clock. The relative position of the hands on both clocks provoked many a heated argument.
It was a pointless evaluation because it was Owen who maintained the Friary clock and saw to it that this jewel in the crown of Callan’s townscape never let down the people who looked to it for guidance throughout their lives.
If a discrepancy arose of even a few seconds, let alone minutes- or if anyone imagined he or she had spotted a divergence or deviation of time keeping between the Friary clock and the one vividly displayed in Owen’s window, both the friars and Owen would quickly become acquainted with the discrepancy.
In every such case that we know of, the friars called upon Owen to have a look at their clock and to make any adjustments he deemed necessary. There was no questioning his judgement.
The entire face of the Friary clock had to be removed for repair from time to time. The Prior, Fr. Crotty, felt obliged to assuage local concerns about a landmark that was close to their hearts.
Owen advised him that the temporary absence of the clock could upset many people in the town, as they regulated their lives by it. One man, whose attitude Owen found incomprehensible, viewed the Friary Clock through binoculars every day from his farmhouse three miles outside Callan.
The man in question had no watch or clock in his house and trusted no timepiece in the world but the Friary Clock or the clock in Owen Richardson’s window. Though this was an extreme case, many people felt a strong loyalty to the church clock. They saw it as part of Callan’s heritage, apart from finding it useful in keeping apace of each day’s events.
To put local minds at rest, Fr. Crotty looked out through the empty circular space in the clock and waved at dumbfounded bystanders. “Mr. Richardson will have the clock back in place by the weekend”, he hollered reassuringly.
On the three occasions that the clock face was taken off for repair, the Prior made his appearance, his head and shoulders encircled and framed by the imposing church tower.
In the middle of a winter hailstorm, onlookers stood aghast as his snow-white head emerged to assure them that the clock would be “returning to its normal functions as soon as possible…with the help of God”. Cries of “Yes Father”, “What did you say, Father?” and “Thank you Father” greeted his calming words.
Fr. Crotty liked the idea of having this real life halo surrounding him, and he gave a moving sermon on the fleeting nature of time, a talk inspired by his dealings with “that genius of a man”, as he called Owen, and the crucial maintenance of the Friary Clock.
Owen Richardson passed away in 1980 after almost half a century of service to Callan. The shop did not survive him. Like the old clock in the window, it quickly disappeared from the heart of Lower Bridge Street.