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Old clock given a new life

Naas has a new public clock or, more accurately, a clock which has not kept time in almost ninety years has been restored as a working timepiece. The clock in question is in the cupola over the archway of the old military barracks – the site now occupied by the striking Áras Chill Dara head office of Kildare County Council on the Newbridge road out of Naas. The archway (sometimes referred to as ‘the lantern building’) and its adjacent two-storey rooms are the only structures to have survived from the original sprawling barracks which at one time accommodated up to 500 men. Built in 1814 the barracks operated as a British Army station for over a century until 1922 when it was handed over to the new Irish Free State army and promptly decommissioned.  A significant military presence was not to return until 1954 when the pioneering Army Apprentice School was set up and shortly afterwards the installation was named after John Devoy, a leader of Irish-American Fenianism who was born near Kill.
The barracks was a vibrant military station training young soldier-technicians until the apprentice school was transferred to the Curragh and the last Army contingent marched out in September 1998.  Later the barrack premises were demolished, its early 19th century buildings being of little use for any modern activity, and the site was identified as the new county headquarters for Kildare County Council. By 2004 the Council’s headquarters, remarkable for its thoroughly modern steel-and-glass construction, had emerged on the site, its car park occupying the area where a hundred pairs of boots once bashed the parade ground square.
Almost dwarfed by the modern construction, the archway building was a forlorn reminder of the military infrastructure which had stood for over 180 years on the site. For a while the future for the archway was not promising. Its gable ends which had been internal walls before the demolition of the main barrack buildings were exposed to the weather. The cupola or dome structure was crumbling away and the clock mechanism totally seized up. The weather-beaten state of the building formed a stark contrast with the shimmering modernity of the KCC headquarters.
However before the point of no return the Council has stepped in and rescued the situation. In an admirable building conservation project the Council’s Architects Department engaged local contractors, Kennycourt Construction, to conserve the archway. A crucial element was the construction of a ‘skin’ wall to protect the exposed gables and the building weatherproofed. Naturally much interest centred on the restoration of the clock. It’s parts were well worn, some broken entirely, and there was reason to believe that the clock had not kept time since the British left in 1922. Kildare County  Council called in the services of a restoration horologist, Mr. Julian Cosby who was no stranger to Naas having completed a major renewal of the Town Hall clock in the mid 1980s..  The Town Hall clock was made by Chancellor & Son of Dublin and installed in 1866. The Barracks’ clock with its intricate assemblage of cogs, gears, axles and spindles, was made by Gillett & Company, a clock-factory founded in 1844 by William Gillett in Croydon near London.
The four faces and dial-hands have been repainted in gold paint and their attractive finish, combined with a replacement weather vane made in Italy (another specialist piece), makes for an evocative reminder of the time when battalions of Kildare men marched through the archway on their way to the far foreign battlefields of Europe and of Africa. Happily the clock in its revived lifetime looks over a more peaceful vista – the residents of Co. Kildare going to and from the County Council offices on a myriad of local government errands. The future use of the archway building will have to await the availability of funding – a display location for heritage material reflecting the history of the site is one possibility. And what a rich story there is to convey with such famous (or notorious) military units as the Black Watch, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Black and Tans having been based at the barracks site over the years. For the time being, and thanks to the foresight of the County Council, the professionalism of its Architects Department, and the specialist horological skills of Mr. Julian Cosby, the old barracks clock adds another instalment to the inventory of historic time-pieces in County Kildare.

Series No: 216.

In his column 'Looking Back' from the Leinster Leader February 17, 2011 Liam Kenny celebrates the restoration of Naas' old barracks clock by recalling the history of the clock. Our thanks to Liam.

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