The Summer Time Act – Eugene Doyle explains why we put the clocks forward in March and backwards in October


The Summer Time Act, also known as the Daylight Saving Act, was introduced to Britain in 1916. The idea was to give farmers an extra hour each evening to help make harvesting crops more efficient. The First World War was in full flow at the time and any measure to maximise the harvest in the shortest time was vital both logistically and for morale.

The government believed that dawn coming as early as 3 a.m. was of little use as most farmers would not be up early enough to take advantage of it. The solution was to hack off one of those early sunlight hours and attach it on to the evening. How? By simply moving the clock forward one hour.
It first made its appearance on 21 May, 1916 and it ran until 1 October.

This new scheme was not introduced to Ireland at that time because such things are seldom straight-forward. Normally, British clocks are set to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The changing of the hour at Easter is called British Standard Time (BST). But in 1916, and for many years prior to that, Dublin and the rest of Ireland were on DMT – Dublin Standard Time.

The reason for this was, Dublin was (and, of course, still is) about twenty minutes behind Greenwich as determined by when the sun is directly over each location. Likewise, the sun won’t be over our west coast for a further twenty minutes. So Ireland was on DMT.

This was just too confusing and on 1 October, when the first British Summer Time ended and British clocks reverted to GMT, DMT was scrapped and Irish clocks were also tuned in to GMT.
When it was decided to re-introduce the scheme the following spring, Ireland was included, and we have retained the practice even after political separation from Britain.
The man who first came up with the idea of having an extra daylight hour in the evening was William Willet.

Born in Surrey in 1856, while out horse riding one morning, he noticed that the majority of houses he passed were still shuttered, the windows curtained and the unmistakable air of the occupants still sleeping.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own