A Towering Place

Folly, Clock Tower or Bell Tower are all terms I have so often heard used to describe the impressive sky line candy which suddenly looms into one’s field of vision at a strategic point along Tower Road in Dublin 15. However, the imposing architectural feature, close to Dublin’s river Liffey, is actually an elegantly dressed water tower.

The 37m high tower stands near to the boundary wall, on the western side of the Farmleigh Demesne, a land area which was formerly in the ownership of the Guinness family (of brewing fame).

Built in Victorian times, the tower which was designed to combine practicality with aesthetic elegance is a recognisable landmark which can be seen from as far away as the Westlink Toll Bridge.

Although the public are not permitted to climb up to the towers viewing balcony apparently the views which can be enjoyed from this elevation are quite impressive. In clear conditions:  Malahide to the north, Dun Laoighre to the south and Maynooth to the west can be seen.

The Water Tower, which was built in 1880s, is thought to have been designed by Architect: T.H.Wyatt. No direct proof exists linking Wyatt to the design. However, a record does exist which indicates the involvement of T.H.Wyatt with the provision of bells for the Tower.

It would appear that Engineers from the Guinness Brewery were involved in erecting the structure which has walls 1.22m thick at ground level and 0.76m thick at the tower’s uppermost point.

The material used to build the tower was a combination of limestone and granite, the former being used for the body of the structure and the latter for dressing. The limestone was quarried at nearby Palmerstown and the granite would have been brought in from the south east of the country.

The real purpose of the tower of course was to provide a water storage facility for Farmleigh Demesne. The tower could store up to 8183 litres of water in a massive tank which is located at balcony level. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that the average house hold attic water tank typically stores 189 litres. The Farmleigh Water Tower could store the equivalent of 44 attic tanks worth of water.

The water supply to the tower was drawn from the nearby river Liffey. A special weir was constructed on the river in the Strawberry Beds area where a mile long mill race brought water to a turbine which pumped water up to the tower.

There are two cast iron clock dials on the tower both of which are 3.35m in diameter.  The chime section of the clock controls five hammers, which strike four bells on the quarter hour to play the Westminster chime. The strike section controls one hammer and strikes the largest of the five bells on the hour only.

The clock bells were cast in 1879. The weights for the trains along with the pendulum are suspended in the stair well. At the bottom of the stair well there is a large container of sand to protect the weights in case of fall.

The clock mechanism was manufactured by Sir Howard Grubb, the famed instrument maker, who had premises at 51 Rathmines Road in Dublin. Grubb more usually made clockwork drives for his equatorial telescopes and this is the only known tower clock by him. He supplied all of the instrumental equipment for the observatory in University College Cork, the great roof at the Dunsink observatory, as well as domes of the Imperial and Royal Observatory in Vienna. He also supplied a telescope for the Farmleigh Water Tower in 1882 at a cost of £90. Grubb installed the clock mechanism in the tower about March 1885. Its restorer believes that it is a unique design.

Although no longer chiming, the clock remains in perfect working order after more than a century and, until recently; it was wound every day by hand. The weights are now raised electrically but there has been no alteration to the clock itself.

The border of Farmleigh Demesne is linked with Dublin’s famous Phoenix Park. The main entrance gate to Farmleigh is accessible from Mountjoy Road inside the Castleknock end of the larger Phoenix Park.


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About dubmantalks

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3 Responses to A Towering Place

  1. Very useful piece this. I was up at Farmleigh a couple of months ago with my family. My brother pointed out the tower, which we all admired, but none of us could give a decent explanation as to what it was for. Now we know. Thanks for that!


  2. paul Murphy says:

    It looks beutiful tonight on the eve of paddys day it’s all lit up green


  3. I can’t imagine anything more stately than this beautiful yet useful tower. I’d love to see it lit up green on Saint Patrick’s Day, and I think you kindly, Frank, for all the research you did in explaining to us its intricate mechanics and fascinating history


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