Enabled by the donation of an extraordinary collection of museum-quality Irish clocks and watches, the Irish Museum of Time in Waterford is a window into the technical, scientific, social, economic, and political and the art and craft history of Ireland, particularly in Ireland’s Ancient East from the late 17th to the end of the 19th century, writes Cian Manning.


The old Irish proverb ‘Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir/Time is a good storyteller’ is illustrated by one of the latest cultural additions to Waterford’s vibrant Viking Triangle in the form of the Irish Museum of Time. Housed in the refurbished gothic-styled Greyfriars Methodist Church, it is Ireland’s only museum dedicated to horology (the study of the measurement of time).

The fledgling museum was established due to a generous donation from former solicitor Colman Curran and his wife Elizabeth Clooney of a fine collection of Irish timepieces dating from 1690 to 1890. This consisted of 30 grandfather or long-case clocks, 30 bracket or wall clocks and 30 pocket watches, all of them Irish pieces. The collection demonstrated the evolution of timepieces and allowed one to explore matters of science, social, political and artistic spheres in Irish history.

This was followed by a donation of an equally impressive collection from pharmacist David Bowles who gifted timepieces which he had been collecting since he was aged 15 years old. Director of Waterford Treasures, Éamonn McEneaney stated that this collection showed that Waterford ‘was a centre for the manufacture and design of what was in its day considered the height of technological expertise. Clocks and watches with their meticulously crafted workings were in fact the earliest computers.’

If horology is the study of the measuring of time and history is the study of past events, they are a combination that has fascinated people for centuries, from sailors and soldiers to great writers and poets. Thus as a place, the Irish Museum of Time echoes the words of Dubliner James Joyce who spoke ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past’.

The team at Waterford Treasures have utilised the most up-to-date interactive technology to bring the past to life and encourage the next generation to explore what has fascinated us for centuries, creating an accessible place for all people to learn and engage. It has given voice to these objects which conjures the words of local poet David Toms that ‘talking with you in your way/the stories that will not wash/bleeding sounds into sentences/stories into mind’.
That the stories of these objects which pioneered and displayed cutting edge technology and scientific developments of their time (if you pardon the pun) comes from the simple sounds of the familiar tick, tock.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own