01 September 2018
Marking the passing of time at
the Clock Tower in Waterford
When I was a child in Cappoquin, Waterford was a big city, and the large towns we tended to find ourselves in included Thurles and Dungarvan.
Waterford was an excursion, and it an exciting place to visit, with Reginald’s Tower and the Clock Tower as the two most noticeable landmarks on the Quays.
Later, in my early 20s, I was in Waterford regularly for meetings of the Irish South-East branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), when I was branch secretary and the meetings usually took place in the Granville Hotel on the Quays, in a front room with the Clock Tower below us on the Quays outside.
I continued visiting Waterford in my late 20s and early 30s, when there was an active branch of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the city, supported by local noteworthies, including the late Maurice Wigham, former principal of Newtown School, and sometimes I stayed with Maurice and Anne Wigham at Newtown.
Reginald’s Tower is the oldest urban civic building in Ireland, and the oldest monument to retain its Viking name. To this day, it remains Waterford's most recognisable landmark. But while I was passing through Waterford on Thursday, I had to stop awhile at the Clock Tower and reflect on the passing of time.
The Clock Tower was built in 1863 when Waterford was Ireland’s busiest industrial port. It had the largest ship building yards in Ireland, before being surpassed by Belfast, and traded to 400 international ports around the world.
During this period, a number of large-scale public works projects were built, including the Clock Tower, which became one of the main symbols of the city. It was originally known as the Fountain Clock, because it had troughs for working horses to drink from.
The Clock Tower was built by public subscription and was completed in 1861, six years earlier than the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place, Limerick, which was erected 150 years ago in 1867.
The Clock Tower in Waterford was designed by Charles Tarrant, built by John Murphy of John’s Hill, and cost £200 to build. The clock, costing £78 10s, was donated by Waterford Corporation and installed 1864. It was designed by Tarrant in an ornate Gothic style, and its interesting architectural and artistic features include diamond panels on the clock faces, subtle portrait detailing and carved dressings.
A door on the north side of the clock tower allows access to the clocks interior and workings. Although this is not open to visitors, the mechanisms of the clock and the fountain are still of technical and engineering interest, and the tower, fountain and water troughs are still in good order.
The architect Charles Tarrant (1815-1877), was born in Dublin, a son of Charles Tarrant (d. 1855), engineer to the Royal Canal Company, and who in turn, was one of the five illegitimate sons of Charles Tarrant (1728-1818), who supervised building the south side of Dame Street in Dublin in 1785 for the Wide Streets Commissioners.
Charles Tarrant, the grandson, was apprenticed to his father, who was engineer to the Royal Canal Company, and became his assistant. He then went to Scotland to work on the construction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway.
On his return to Ireland, Tarrant appears to have worked on the engineering staff of Dublin Corporation. In 1847, he became acting engineer on the Waterford and Kilkenny railway, based in Kilkenny, completing the line as far as Thomastown in 1850.
After some years in America, he returned to Ireland, and in 1854 he was appointed county surveyor for Monaghan. Six months later, in 1855, he was transferred to Co Waterford, and remained there for the rest of his life.
He was also the resident engineer for the Waterford and Tramore and the Waterford and Kilkenny (later Waterford and Central Ireland) railways, and in the early 1870s he was appointed engineer to the Waterford, Dungarvan and Lismore railway.
Tarrant died at his home in Belvedere Terrace, Tramore, on 29 July 1877 as the result of pneumonia brought on by getting wet on a yachting trip two days earlier. He was buried in the graveyard at Christ Church, Tramore.
His other works include the County and City Gaol in Waterford, and Lismore Bridge, Co Waterford.
Tarrant’s Clock Tower remains an attractive feature in the streetscape of the quays in Waterford and provides a pleasing termination to the vista from Barronstrand Street.