If you thought this week’s Thursday Doors was taking a ‘break’ from jail, you’d be half right. In my local town of Youghal the Clock Gate Tower has recently been refurbished and opened as a museum. It is the newest addition on Ireland’s Ancient East tourist trail. The tour gave me a better understanding of the past 600 years in the history of Youghal and the impact the Clock Gate Tower has had on the lives of so many of its people. With four floors that take you through more than 400 years of history, there is a lot more to this old building than meets the eye. Our tour guide, Dorothy, did a fantastic job of bringing each era of its history to life – believe me, it’s been there a long time. I don’t know how she was able to remember everything and answer any question asked of her, too.
The Clock Gate was built in 1777 on the site of the old Iron Gate also known as Trinity Gate, In 1563, a merchant by the name of Melchior Bluet, leased the building, probably as a residence and storehouse. This was replaced in 1620 with a more modern building which included an imposing and distinctive clock but by the mid to late 18th century, Trinity Gate was in a dilapidated condition, and in 1773 the Corporation decided to knock down the building but held onto the clock and bell. It was replaced with one that had sufficient room for a jail and jailer’s house. The cost of its construction at the time amounted to £2,000, which would be equivalent to £233,100.00 in 2016. Although it was built as a prison it has been put to many uses over its lifetime. From about 1840 it was no longer used as a jail but continued to tell the time to the people of Youghal right up to the present day.
The interior of the Clock Tower is just as interesting as the exterior and on the first floor we learned about the history of the town as a busy seaport, exporting goods such as wool, barley and corn, with olives and wine being some of the items that were imported.
In the early 1600’s Youghal was elevated to the rank of staple town. In historical terms, this meant that it was an elite market for major exports from Ireland and received the exclusive rights to carry on a wool trade with important commercial towns in England, such as Bristol and Liverpool. During the 17th century Youghal was one of Ireland’s main ports, far more important than Cork Harbour, which was described at the time as, ‘a port near Youghal.’
When we climbed to the second floor the story became much more sombre, as the history of the Clock Gate as a jail and public gallows unfolded. I know you can see a modern form of heating in the above photograph but I can assure you there was no such heat in the two cells that were originally on this floor – one for Protestants and the other for Catholics. Women were incarcerated in the same cell with men and baskets were lowered to the street below so that food could be placed inside and hoisted back up to the windows, which were barred but not glazed. It’s pretty high up there, so I can only imagine how drafty and cold it must have been.
This would have been a typical bed but there would only have been room for about five or six at most in each of the two cells. Sometimes up to twenty people were incarcerated in a cell with only a bucket for a toilet and no privacy.
During the Irish rebellion of 1798, three sympathizers were hanged from the tower, their bodies dangling as a warning to others. Thomas Gallagher was one of those hanged for an attempt at influencing a soldier to betray his allegiance to his regiment. Over two hundred years ago, inspired by the ideals and successes of the French and American Revolutions, the Irish rose up in revolt but were poorly equipped with only pitchforks, pikes, and a handful of firearms (seen in the image above). With these meagre weapons they confronted the well-organised might of the British Empire in an epic struggle which ultimately failed, but left a lasting impression on later generations.
The third floor of the tower is all about the clock. You can see from the photograph of the diagram how it has been incorporated into the structure of the building. It was fascinating to learn that time has been told from the same site since the 1600’s. There are only three clock faces on the cupola on top because a fourth one would have been facing the rear of the town, which at the time was a sparsely inhabited steep incline.
The ceiling in this room is decorated with a selection of cogs and the bell displayed in the poster on the wall is the original, still in use today. Unfortunately, we were not allowed outside to have a closer look but that may be an option in the future. As it is located above the fourth floor, I was happy enough to see an image of it (I’m not great with heights).
The fourth floor was my favourite and I took lots of photographs of all the interesting items on display there, but I’ll leave that one till next week’s post. In the meantime, here’s something to test your powers of observation. Do you see anything odd about the clock face above? I’m sure someone will spot it, although none of us on the tour did, when asked. If not, I’ll explain it all in next week’s post. Until then, here’s a short video that will give you a great bird’s eye view of the Clock Tower and the surrounding beach and countryside. Youghal is a friendly seaside town that is steeped in history and if you get a chance to visit you will have plenty to keep you occupied, whatever the weather.
Thanks for joining me on the Clock Gate tour and if you’d like to sample some Thursday Doors from around the globe, check out Norm’s blog.