After he married Catherine, the only time I saw Uncle Fergus was during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when the family observed the “truce”. I never questioned why we didn’t get together at any other time of the year. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the truth.
Catherine and Fergus were childless so we celebrated Christmas at our house where I was the only child. The New Year was announced at my uncle’s house by the grandfather clock that stood in the vestibule. Shortly before midnight, we would gather around the old longcase clock and wait for it to sound the full Westminster chimes. We would toast and kiss, celebrate loudly with the solemn twelve strikes sounding in the background.
The O’Brien boys, Fergus and my father Liam, his older brother (15 years), were raised on the family farm in County Clare, Ireland, in a devout Catholic family. While my grandparents were alive, the holidays were celebrated on the farm. My mother and her sister would cook the holiday feasts under the watchful supervision of my grandmother. When Grandma died my mother took over the responsibilities for the meals.
For many of those years, Fergus was still at home working the fields. Fergus would use my visits to educate me on the many aspects of farming. He delighted in making me clean out the cow pens.
“If you’re going to be a farmer, Peadar my boy, you better get used to shoveling the shite.”
I had no aspirations of becoming a farmer and my father, who had disappointed his father by becoming a “sissy city boy”, was counting on me joining him in his insurance business. Still, I would play the game and I am guessing Fergus knew there was no farming in my future.
“Yeah, sure, Uncle Fergus.”
At age twenty, Fergus decided he wanted to go to college. Grandpa’s disappointment with Fergus leaving the farm was alleviated some when Fergus said he wanted to be a veterinarian. The big blow came when Fergus informed the family that he would be attending the University of Belfast in Northern Ireland. My father, being somewhat open-minded, secretly supported his brother’s decision.
Grandpa protested almost irrationally: “No son of mine should be going to school with the Ulsters.” His father had been killed in the Irish Revolution. Grandpa hated the English and he hated the Protestants. Fergus could not be dissuaded. He worked the farm through the summer then left for Belfast in the fall. That Christmas, Fergus returned to the farm and a cold reception from his father. By then Grandma had passed and my mother’s sister was married and spending Christmas with her husband’s family. My mother cooked the meals alone for our small group of five. The adults tried to hide the tension from me but even at 12 years of age, I sensed things amiss. It was clear that something was very wrong when Uncle Fergus went back to Belfast two days after Christmas when I had expected him to stay until the New Year.
I later learned that on the day after Christmas Fergus had informed his father that he had fallen in love with a Protestant girl. He intended to convert so they could marry in the Anglican Church. My grandfather threw him out of the house. Grandfather died in the spring. My father would say he died of a broken heart. There was no family Christmas that year.
I don’t know who initiated the truce. I suspect it was my father because Fergus had lost his standing in the family. In addition to the agreed on locations for Christmas and New Year, each family was free to attend their own church service. At Christmas when Fergus and Catherine were at our house, they would go to the one Protestant church in the area. Similarly, for the New Year, my parents would take me to Mass at the Catholic Church in the next village. The détente of the truce was enhanced by the holiday spirit and goodly quantities of beer and whiskey. As a teenage Irish lad, I was allowed to partake in the drinking.
In the fall of the first year of the truce, Fergus and Catherine took a holiday to Galway and came back with the clock. It was Catherine who recommended chiming in the New Year. I was fascinated by the way the clock chimed not just on the hour but also each quarter hour. “It chimes like Big Ben,” Fergus told me. “1/4 Westminster chimes at 15 minutes past the hour, then 1/2 and 3/4 at the next 15-minute intervals and finally the full Westminster on the hour.” Fergus showed me how to reset the weights; how to turn off the chimes at bedtime and how to turn them back on in the morning. He often cautioned me to be careful with the adjustments. “Take care. She’s a very special clock, Peadar my boy. Someday I will tell you her story.”
I was thirty when Fergus died with the flu in a cold February. He and Catherine had been divorced for several years and Fergus had lost his spirit. His Will left everything to my father, except for the grandfather clock which he left to me. We honored his wishes that his service be conducted at the Anglican Church which he still attended after separating from Catherine. The Irish wake was held at his house where I took note that the clock was stopped. I reset the weights and the time. The Westminster chimes provided a reminder of my times with Fergus.
I had the clock moved to my house where it worked fine for several weeks. It was in the early spring that it started acting strangely. In the morning it would be an hour slow, so I had to reset it. In the evening when I returned from work, it would again be an hour slow. Sometimes, the pendulum would stop swinging. I was lucky to find a master clocksmith, Jimmy Laverty, who specialized in grandfather clocks. Because of the clock’s irregular behavior, Laverty decided it was best to take it to his workshop where he could monitor its workings for a day.
Two days later, Laverty called me. “Mr. O’Brien, I know what is wrong with your clock but I don’t think you will believe me if I told you. You have to see it for yourself. Can you come over to the shop?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Best if you arrive at least 20 minutes before the hour and plan on staying for about an hour and a half. Maybe bring a book.”
I arrived at 11:35 AM, curious as to what Laverty was going to show me.
“How long have you had the clock?” inquired Laverty.
“Just three weeks now. Worked fine until last week.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” said Laverty nodding his head and offering me a chair. “Sit here and listen for the 3/4 chimes at 11:45 and the full chimes at noon. I will be in the next room working. Call me if you have any questions.”
The 11:45 chimes seemed normal to me. I read my book while I waited for noon. I was looking at the clock as the big hand was about to point to 12. When it reached precisely that position, the pendulum stopped swinging. I called for Laverty.
“What is it?” said Laverty.
“The clock stopped at noon,” I replied.
“As I expected. Now can you sit for another hour’s observation?”
I sat and read, occasionally looking at the stopped clock for any sign of movement. At 1:00 PM, by my wristwatch, the clock came alive, the pendulum swinging. The chimes played the full Westminster, then the clock sounded the twelve strikes of noon that agreed with the once frozen clock face. Laverty came back into the room with a smile on his face.
“So, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Well, Mr. O’Brien, you’ve got yourself a haunted clock, a Callaghan. It might be the only one in existence and as the story goes, the last clock Callaghan made.”
“Haunted?” I replied with a jerk of my head.
“Every Irish clocksmith knows the legend. Callaghan was a famous maker of grandfather clocks around the turn of the twentieth century, a fierce Republican and a rumored member of the IRA. He chafed heavily under British rule. Now before I tell you the legend, let’s take note of some numbers. What time does your grandfather clock have?”
“And what time do you have on your wristwatch?”
“Now can you think of any reason for one clock to be exactly one hour behind another clock?”
As I pondered the question, I glanced around at all the clocks hanging on the wall in Laverty’s shop until I blurted it out: “Daylight Saving Time!”
“That’s it. So here’s the legend. Callaghan was making a grandfather clock when the British passed the law for the time shifts in 1916. He was so opposed to London telling Ireland how to tell time that he swore the clock he was making would never run on Daylight Saving Time. When he finished that one, he stopped making clocks.”
“So you think Callaghan haunts this clock?”
“Well, you’ve seen for yourself how it behaves.”
“Yes, can’t argue with that.”
“You said you only had the clock for three weeks. Where did you get in from?”
“I inherited it from my Uncle Fergus.”
“And he never said anything about it acting strange?”
“No, and now that I think of it, I only saw the clock around Christmas and the New Year.”
“Oh, so never during Daylight Saving Time. Do you know where your uncle got the clock?”
“He told me he bought it at an estate sale in Galway.”
“Galway, huh. That fits. As the story goes, in 1917, now mind you this is over 100 years ago, just before he died, Callaghan gave the clock to the owner of O’Farrell’s pub in Claddagh just outside Galway. The locals fancied the clock’s resistance to ‘England’s Time’. Many-a-pint was said to be wagered and lost by visitors insisting the clock just needed to be reset to read proper.”
I smiled. “I can visualize the patrons staring at the clock waiting for it to stop and start up again on its own.”
“Well, that only lasted a few years. In the 1930s, the village of mostly thatched cottages was razed to make way for public housing and the pub closed. No one knows what happened to the clock.”
“In private hands all these years, no doubt,” I said.
“When I opened her up, I found a Carroll’s Clocks repair tag from 1945. Carroll’s Clocks in Galway: long gone.”
“Looks like she’s lived most of her life in Galway.”
“Yeah, that’s my bet,” replied Laverty. “What do you want to do with the clock, Mr. O’Brien? I can give you a good price for her. I would be honored to own a Callaghan, especially this one. I would even throw in one of my new longcases as part of the deal.”
“No, my Uncle Fergus wanted me to have it. There’s a family tradition that I want to revive this New Year’s Eve.”
Laverty delivered the clock back to my house the next day. I never again tried to set it for Daylight Saving Time. I just got used to it being one hour behind during that period as I am sure Fergus did.
It’s a very special clock.