The Story Of Irishman Patrick O’Clock And How He Invented The Time


FOR thousands of years, man has struggled to grasp the measurement of time and space. Right up until 2,000 years ago, people relied on the position of the sun to keep track of their working days, with only midday and midnight as the two main indicators available to them. This would sometimes lead to exhaustion in the summer months as the working day was twice the length of its winter counterpart.

It wasn’t until the Roman period, when working for money became the norm, that a system was eventually put into place to universalise the measurement of passing time.

In 32 BC, Emperor Augustus of Rome decided to gather together some of the world’s most brilliant minds in a bid to construct a workable system that would put-to-bed some of the many issues relating to their current system, or lack there of.

Roman scouts spent twelve years travelling the perimeter of the Roman empire in search of freethinkers and philosophers who could achieve this task. It proved difficult.

On January 21st, 20BC, they arrived in Ireland, one of the few remaining kingdoms they had no wish to conquer – due to the sheer madness of its people.

Legend has it, a team of 17 Roman scouts landed at an inlet on the South East of the island, known nowadays as Waterford, where they began searching for one Patrick O’Clock: a carpenter’s son who was said to possess great mathematical genius.

Patrick, who lived high in the Comeragh mountains, was a quiet man who liked to live alone. He lived in a hand built hut made of wattle and daub, filled with strange inventions and tools; that many local people claimed were weapons for the devil himself.

Story has it, that when the team of Roman scouts first approached, he shot at them with a large gallybander (slingshot) made from a Y-shaped oak tree, which fired large blocks of turf. Patrick killed all but 3 of the Roman’s, who then surrendered to him.

Handing him a letter written in his native Gaelic tongue, Patrick was surprised to read that the soldiers were not there to kill him, but to ask for help, to which he replied ‘Cén fáth go raibh tú nach fucking rá mar sin ?’, which meant ‘Why didn’t ye fucking say so?’

Upset he had needlessly murdered 14 men and their horses, Patrick agreed to help the soldiers in any way he could, and agreed to travel to Rome with them to meet the Emperor, to see what he wanted from him.

Two months later, Patrick arrived at the wonderful city of Rome to hoards of welcoming people who had never seen a man with red hair before. Many touched him for good luck as he was escorted by the scouts through the streets to the Emperor’s Palace.

“You are our last hope Patrick,” Augustus greeted him. “We need some way of deciphering time so we can divide it evenly between work and play, sleep and wake.”

Patrick stood for a moment, baffled.

“Are you lads fucking serious or wha’?” he replied, taken aback by the simplicity of their conundrum. “You dragged me over five thousand fucking miles, in that piece of shit boat, with those tomato munching pretty boys, to tell you the fucking time?”

“Am….yes. I think ‘the time’ is what we are looking for.” replied the great emperor of the biggest known Empire on the planet. “What time is it Patrick?”

Licking his parched lips, he replied: ‘It’s about 16 and a half now.’

“Sixteen and a half?” asked the emperor.

“Yeah, normally I’d have 16 pints by this stage,” Patrick muttered. “In Ireland we measure time by the number of pints of beer we drank that day. The average man at home drinks 24 pints a day. Right now, it’s about sixteen or seventeen and I’m gaspin’.”

Conferring with some mathematicians, they nodded with the emperor in agreement of his sums, and ordered that all future days were to be divided equally into 24 separate units of measurement.

“How can we ever repay you Mr. O’Clock?” he asked.

“Well, I suppose you can put my surname after the time,” he requested. “Like, it’s now 17 O’Clock. And I’m not even drunk yet.”

The Emperor agreed to his wishes, and ordered everyone in the empire to adhere to the new time system and to use Patrick’s last name after every mention of time.

Following a large feast and celebration, Patrick was sent home on the Emperor’s personal sailing vessel and given a large sack of gold and silver for his troubles.

Patrick later used some of the money to build the clock tower in Waterford city, Ireland, where it still stands today.