Right about now, one hundred and four years ago, dozens of people in the city of Dublin were concerned for their immediate future. This was because they had been rounded up after the surrender of the Volunteers in the Easter Rising and were facing courts martial which could, and in a number of cases, actually did, lead to their executions.
A couple of years after the Rising, an irate Countess Markievicz, in a highly fractious letter, seemed to suggest that one of the consequences of the Rising was that a vindictive British government had taken away Ireland’s unique time zone and folded us in with Greenwich Mean Time as a punishment for being bolshy rebels.
Let’s do some unpacking here. It is true that in 1916 the British government introduced the Time (Ireland) Act. This abolished something called Dublin Mean Time, which had been in force since an earlier piece of legislation, the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act of 1880. What the 1916 legislation meant was that a practice, whereby time in Dublin was twenty-five minutes behind GMT, was finally abolished. DMT was the local time at Dunsink Observatory. To be completely accurate Dublin was twenty-five minutes and twenty-one seconds behind London. But, with your permission, I will ignore the twenty-one seconds. Or, if you like, I can pause for exactly that amount of time just to keep things straight. Maybe not.
So, when British clocks went back by an hour for the winter of 1916, so that Tommies weren’t fighting the Battle of the Somme in the dark, Ireland only got an extra thirty-five minutes in the scratcher. Alignment with GMT became permanent and remains so to this day.
The prominence of local time—i.e. the actual time at a specific location, rather than a centralised version of same—came about in the United Kingdom in 1858. At that time we were members of the august configuration of stroppy nations. On 25 November of that year the defendant in Curtis v March, due to be heard by a judge in Dorchester failed to show up for his hearing and lost his case. He appealed on the basis that he’d been told to be in court at 10.00 am and had turned up on time, according to the local time on the town clock, but not in line with GMT. He won his appeal and that ruling defined ‘time’ in the UK as local, until the 1880 legislation which standardised it in Britain and left us twenty-five minutes adrift.
However, there’s quite a bit of post hoc, ergo propter hoc about the Countess’s pronouncement. In other words ‘since event Y followed event X event Y must have been caused by event X’. Which is a bit like saying ‘I bought an ice cream and two minutes later there was an earthquake. Therefore, my purchase of a tub of Cherry Garcia caused that seismic event.’ Was it really the ‘stab on the back’ of the Easter Rising that prompted an apoplectic and vengeful British government to steal our lovely time zone?
Well, for a start the 1916 Rising was done and dusted by the beginning of May. The abolition of Dublin Mean Time, which added almost half an hour to the seven hundred and fifty years of British colonial oppression, did not take place until 1 October. While revenge is a dish best served cold, it’s more likely to be consumed when it hasn’t completely gone off.
Having said that, there was some serious opposition to the alignment of Dublin and London in the same time zone. It was opposed in the House of Commons by some Irish nationalist MPs. A letter writer to the Irish Independent in August 1916 observed that, ‘the question is whether we should give up this mark of our national identity to suit the convenience of shipping companies and a few travellers.’
Post Brexit, there is the enormous potential for confusion on the island of Ireland if the UK—along with rejecting the European Court of Justice and pulling out of the Eurovision Song Contest because they’re never going to win it again anyway—should also assert their new-found independence by abandoning summer and winter time. So, it is worth remembering that we have a powerful weapon in our armoury to offer in retaliation. We can threaten them with the restoration of Dublin Mean Time. Then we can make things even more confusing by adding back the twenty-one seconds as well.
But as to whether the loss of DMT one hundred and four years ago was a punishment for the 1916 Rising? That’s FHT, fake history time.