BY JOHN FITZGERALD
For decades in Callan, one of the most striking and cherished facets of the local streetscape was a clock.
Though battered looking and antiquated, people swore by it. The sturdy hands that revolved around its aged face recorded the passing of the seconds, minutes, hours and days of their lives with pinpoint accuracy.
The clock bore witness to a town’s cyclical comings and goings in an age when watches were deemed a luxury. And it will forever be associated in local folk memory with the man who displayed it prominently in his shop window: Owen Richardson.
Owen came to Callan in the 30s after operating a mobile picture house business. At that time, he had lived in Ballingarry, County Tipperary. Before Ballingarry, he had spent his childhood years and teens north of the border.
He set up his watch and clock mending shop in Callan following a tragic accident in a Limerick cinema involving a fire that destroyed part of the building.
He quickly won the trust and confidence of locals with his expertise as a mender of timepieces. He worked mainly at night in the latter part of his career. The reason for this, according to Owen, was that the vibrations from passing traffic interfered with his subtle, intricate adjustments and alterations to the innards of watches and clocks.
In the 60s and 70s, cars and lorries, while not as plentiful as today, were sufficiently loud and distracting to impede his concentration.
The level of expertise he brought to his nocturnal profession was every bit as demanding as the skills of a brain surgeon. Indeed, he often likened his occupation to that of a man who had to slice open human beings to get to the roots of whatever ailed them.
He knew every atom of the complex interior of a timepiece. He had a working knowledge of clocks dating to the 1600s. At any one time, he had hundreds of broken, discarded watches and clocks in the shop.
Apart from those dropped in for repair; he avidly collected spare parts from “hopeless cases”, as he described timepieces that were beyond mending. These all served a purpose.
Owen had a large antique clock in the window of his shop. Though showing the effects of advanced age, it was deemed close to infallible as a timekeeper. For decades this clock was an essential and much loved feature of Bridge Street.
It had Roman numerals and a quaint Old World facade that drew sympathetic and flattering commentary from visitors to Callan, as well as commanding the respect of locals who knew Owen Richardson well and looked up to him. Not that he wished them to.
He was a humble man, despite his considerable expertise and intellectual powers.
He shared his vast knowledge of philosophy and a range of other subjects with visitors, many of them locals, who called to his shop during the day.
They listened to his tales of wonder and woe, and many people came to him for advice on just about any of life’s challenges. Because he knew what made the Callan people tick, as well as knew timepieces.
One woman, unfortunately, took a dislike to a Cuckoo Clock in Owen’s shop window that she complained was continually waking her up at all hours of the morning. Retired midwife, Polly Fennelly lived directly opposite him on the other side of the street.
In the autumn of her years, she stood in her front doorway to greet passers-by, a smallish lady who had a kind word for most people…but a low tolerance threshold for Cuckoo Clocks!
Owen speculated endlessly about the mysterious nature of time itself. He wondered how a world beyond this one could have no passage of time, as we on earth understand the concept. He said he could never imagine a world without clocks.
The building in which he worked changed little over the decades. While time marched on with the constant tick-tick-tick, it seemed to stand still in the Dickensian, shadowy, and almost cave-like shop interior.
(The iconic pictures of Owen Richardson and the clock in the window of his shop were taken by the late Jane O’ Malley who kindly gave them to me to include in a book about Callan back n 2004. Thanks to Peter Brett.for the picture of Lower Bridge Street- a few houses down from Owen’s shop- ripped up for pipe-laying.)
To be continued..