The Four-Faced Liar

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History of the four-faced liar


The Four-faced
liar: Shandon Steeple clock tower in Cork, Ireland

The Four-Faced Liar's name refers to a church steeple in Cork, Ireland, birthplace of owner/manager Conor O'Sullivan.

The northside of the City of Cork is dominated by St. Anne's Church and its curious steeped tower. The Shandon Bells, as the cathedral is also known, was built in 1722 on the ruins of Shandon Castle, its tower faced with two silvery limestone and two reddish sandstone walls, summarizing the local geology. From these the colours of the Cork hurling and football teams are taken.

Another curious aspect of the clock is its golden weather-cock, graced not with a rooster, but a giant salmon, indicating the importance of the fishing industry of the River Lee to the citizenry of two centuries ago. Nine feet high, the 'fish of Shandon' has long remained one of the most familiar features on the Cork landscape.

According to one source, the clock on St. Anne's Church was one of the first public clocks in Cork City. The idea for the clock was proposed by Councillor Delay at a meeting of Cork Corporation in 1843. He spoke of the hardship imposed on many working-class people who were unable to tell the time, as many of them did not own watches or clocks. He was supported by some of the medical profession in the city as they argued that many poor people were in danger of poisoning themselves by not knowing the times when prescribed medicines should be taken. (We can only wonder that the primary famine-era concern involved medicine rather than employment — presumably there were not many jobs for workers to be late to.) At a meeting of Cork Corporation on the 23rd May 1843 it was agreed that a grant of £250.00 be provided for the design and construction of a clock. James Mangan, a Cork architect and clockmaker won the public competition to design the clock. Cork Corporation determined that the clock should stay in public ownership rather than be the property of the Church of Ireland. To this end they appointed 4 men, at an annual cost of £13.00, to maintain the clock. A local craftsman, Daniel Thresher, built the clock at a cost of £18.00. In 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine, the clock was installed in the church. Though sophisticated in its design and extremely large by the standards of the day, the clock apparently failed to keep the same time on each of its four faces, leading locals to dub it "The Four-Faced Liar," a joke also made in reference to a clock outside of Birmingham, England, among others.

The Four-Faced Liar appreciates the idea that time is not an absolute, but rather relies on perception. Just as each of the clock's faces renders its own version of the time, work-time and leisure-time can pass at different rates. The bartenders at the Four-Faced Liar do pledge, however, to help the citizenry take their "prescriptions" on time.

Click here for a contemporary account of the clock and its significance:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.

— T.S. Eliot