"Time may change me/But I can't trace time," sang David Bowie on Changes but if he were about this weekend, the Thin White Duke might consider heading to Suirside where he could find out all about time and measuring it when the first Waterford International Festival of Time takes place.
Curator of the Irish Museum of Time and Director of Waterford Treasures, Eamonn McEneaney explained that Waterford boasts an extraordinary yet little known connection with traditional Swiss watch and clockmaking, which goes right back to the 18th century.
"Facing oppression under their French and Bernese masters, plans were drawn up in 1782 for 1,000 Swiss Huguenot artisans to uproot and relocate to Ireland, to establish a settlement of master craftsmen where they could flourish," he said.
"This utopian settlement was given the name of New Geneva and parts of Waterford still carry the name today though shifting political dynamics in both Switzerland and Ireland at that time would bring an end to the New Geneva dream before it could become a reality.
“A small number of Swiss did make the journey, only to return to their own country, as conditions for them there eased. Nevertheless, Waterford almost became the new home for Haute Horlogerie, and that legacy lives on in the newly opened Irish Museum of Time, which opened in 2021.”
Mr McEneaney said that the Irish Museum of Time, which is housed in the Waterford Treasures Museum, was delighted to recognise that legacy of the Swiss who came to Suirside by hosting the first Waterford International Festival of Time.
He said the festival, which runs from Friday until Sunday, offers anyone interested in watchmaking and the history of how humans have measured time, a very special opportunity to meet some of the most respected Masters of contemporary independent watch and clock making in the world.
“We have 16 of the world’s most famous horologists attending the festival this weekend. They will be showcasing their masterpieces of time and design and engineering so we’re very excited to be welcoming a vast array of world-renowned clock and watchmakers to Waterford.
“Many of these horologists have three and five-years and longer waiting lists for appointments and others have their future lifetime books of work filled with orders so this is an incredibly unique opportunity to observe their masterpieces and chat with them about their work and process. “
“It really is like a “Who’s Who” of the contemporary watch and clock making so festivalgoers will have the opportunity to view, for the very first time in Ireland, masterpieces, which have defined the careers of these award-winning creators, some of whom hold Guinness World Records.
Among the many horologists attending are watchmakers from Switzerland, France Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the UK as well as three Irish watchmakers, Bryan Leech from Bagenalstown in Co Carlow and brothers, John and Stephen McGonigle who are based in Neuchatel in Switzerland.
Spare time hobby
Stephen McGonigle, who studied for three years at the Irish-Swiss Institute of Horology in Dublin, has told how they grew up in a house in Athlone where their father, who was a typesetter for the Westmeath Independent and later The Irish Times, used to repair clocks in his spare time.
“Dad, repaired watches and clocks in his spare time. Although all I saw back then was greasy dirty clocks, it wasn’t until my brother John did the course before me, that I became hooked. I found it fascinating as it is really a microscopic art,” he told The Irish Times earlier this year.
And he has a great story to tell about meeting, not David Bowie, but Bono at a trade fair in Monaco when the company was just starting out and the U2 frontman and Simon Carmody from the Golden Horde sat in with him for about 20 minutes to hear how he became a watchmaker.
“Bono said, and I have it on a video clip – which I treasure – that our Tourbillion watch was ‘the best watch, and the most beautiful object you could have on your wrist’. I was so excited, I thought we were made, I was sure he would buy one for all the band members,” he laughed.
Among the other highlights of this weekend's festival will be an event at Waterford City Hall where former Curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory Greenwich David Rooney will take to the stage to discuss his book, the acclaimed About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks.
For further information on the inaugural Waterford International Festival of Time see waterfordtreasures.com