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Ireland’s Time Leap

Ireland’s Time Leap – Jack Coombe looks into Ireland’s turn to Greenwich

What if I told you perhaps you aren’t always running late but maybe you’re just running on Dublin Mean Time?

Before the late 19th century, time in Ireland was determined locally based on the timing of sunrise and sunset. On October 1, 1916, just five months after the Rising, Ireland relinquished its individual time zone and adopted Greenwich Mean Time. With the introduction of daylight saving and the end of summertime that year, Dublin’s time was aligned with that of London. Since 1880, Ireland had its own legal time zone as per The UK’s Statutes Act, 1880, which established Dublin Mean Time as the official time for the country. This local mean time, based on observations at Dunsink Observatory outside Dublin, lagged approximately 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the legal time standard for Great Britain as stipulated by the same act. The Time (Ireland) Act of 1916 synchronised Irish time with British time, aligning both countries’ clocks with the Greenwich meridian.

When British clocks were set back an hour for winter on Sunday, October 1st, 1916, at 2 am, Irish clocks only adjusted by 35 minutes to achieve this synchronisation. Summer time (Daylight Saving Time) had been introduced in May 1916 across the United Kingdom as a temporary efficiency measure for the First World War, and the changeover from Dublin time to Greenwich Time was simultaneous with the changeover from summer time to winter time. Before adopting GMT, Ireland’s timekeeping was characterised by decentralisation and variability between regions. Local solar time, determined by the position of the sun, was the norm, leading to inconsistencies across the island. This decentralised approach posed challenges for coordination, especially in transportation, communication, and commerce.

The issue of consistent timekeeping between Ireland and Britain was a related concern. By the late 18th century, clocks and watches had become prevalent, replacing sundials for public timekeeping. However, local communities still adhered to solar mean time, adjusting their clocks based on the sun’s position. Consequently, while London might indicate 1 pm, in Dublin it would show 12:35, with further discrepancies in western regions like Galway, which lagged behind Dublin by 11 minutes. The rise of railway networks exposed the inefficiencies of this decentralised system. The expansion of railways emphasised the need for standardised timekeeping. Each railway company operated on its own schedule, causing confusion and logistical challenges for travellers and cargo services. This lack of synchronisation underscored the necessity for a uniform time system to streamline operations and improve connectivity within Ireland and with other regions beyond its borders. This decision not only aligned the country’s clocks with international standards but also had far-reaching implications for various aspects of Irish society.

The absence of significant opposition in the press during that period could be attributed to wartime censorship and restrictions imposed by the Defence of the Realm Act, which led to the suppression of much of the radical press in Ireland. Additionally, following the Rising, many radicals found themselves interned, further limiting dissenting voices in the press. However, many in the nationalist movement saw this as a further erosion of Ireland’s ability to make decisions for itself. Nevertheless, it was kept for trade reasons. In a recently unearthed letter from 1918, Countess Markievicz, a prominent figure in the 1916 Rising and a significant female leader in the Irish struggle for independence, vehemently opposed the abolition of Dublin Mean Time and expressed bitter discontent regarding this decision. Thought no real efforts were made until August 1916 to propose legislation regarding the time issue because the turbulence caused by the Rising made it challenging to assess the sentiment in Ireland regarding this matter. Although Daylight Saving was initially framed as a wartime measure, the alignment of Irish and British time was set to be permanent.

Following independence in 1922, the newly formed state closely aligned its timekeeping with the UK to prevent the establishment of separate time zones on the island of Ireland.The issue of Irish time resurfaced as a topic of debate in 2013 when the ill-fated Brighter Evening Bill proposed aligning Ireland with Central European time. The then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, responded to this proposal by advising those seeking brighter evenings to simply wake up earlier. For now, any further change in Irish time seems unlikely due to Ireland’s close relationship with the UK, specifically Northern Ireland.

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