Time vs. Ballybay

“Do I dare
Disturb the universe ?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

( The Love Song Of J.Alfred Prufrock – T.S.Eliot)

I seem to live two lives in tandem these days, sometimes master, sometimes servant, sometimes Dad, sometimes son, and especially sometimes student, sometimes teacher.

This week I attended two nights of my course in Trinity on Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship and then spent Thursday judging this years Monaghan County finalists in the Student Enterprise Awards. So in effect I went from sitting in class and discovering things that apply to every business that are hidden in plain sight, and realising how much I haven’t been aware of, to judging others as they start out on the same journey, thirty years behind me.

Having viewed the finalists projects and spoken to all of the wonderfully enthusiastic people who presented them I have a confidence in the future, and the future of the centre of the Universe, Monaghan, in particular, that I haven’t felt in a while. We’ll be grand.

Last year I was a judge at the same event and at the last moment the real judge, Martin McVicar, CEO of Combilift, had to leave the event early to make a flight, as he has a proper job. So I was asked at the last moment to say a few words to the finalists. I thought it would be hilarious to start of with a joke and so started off by saying that I would give them the best advice that I had ever been given, which was “ Never, ever, get involved in a land war in Asia.”

I laughed. No one else did.

This year I had mentally prepared a proper speech just in case, and of course they asked Edel Treanor , Director at Mullan Lighting, to speak instead. So here is what I would have said :

“Can I just say before I get to what I’d planned to say that I am standing here in awe of you guys and the fantastic projects we’ve just judged. I’m also a little jealous, actually I’m very jealous. I’m jealous of your youth, confidence and vision, but my jealously is tempered by the knowledge that all of our futures are secure in your hands.

Now , this being Monaghan, the true centre of the Universe, the three things I want to tell you are all related to Monaghan, and in this instance, more specifically , Ballybay, which geographically at least, is the centre of the centre of the Universe.

So, three stories from Ballybay. Hmmm, now that I think about it, the first one concerns what happened in Wards Bar on the Main St., and more particularly, after midnight in Wards Bar, so, two stories from Ballybay.

The first concerns Benny Callan. Benny left Corduff on a horse and trap in 1928 for Ballybay where he caught the steam train to Derry. There he boarded the Anchor Line ship for New York. He worked as a farmhand and studied engineering at night and eventually graduated and got a job in the revolutionary new industry of aircraft. He excelled and  was at the cutting edge of new technology eventually ending up at Grumann Aeropace. Benny became foreman under lead engineer Tom Kelly working on a top secret project, the design and manufacture of the the Apollo 11 lunar landing module ,known as the Eagle. Benny’s core responsibility was the emergency manual landing controls, which, if you think about it is a thankless task. You’re dedicating a large part of your life and career to something that you, and everyone else hopes will never be used.

On the afternoon of July 20th 1969 Benny Callan from Corduff found himself with the Grumann team in the Kennedy Space Centre in a room adjacent to Apollo 11 mission control. As the time approached 3pm they listened intently to the live feed as their baby, the Eagle made it’s final approach to Tranquility Bay.
Through the radio cackle, with 10 minutes left until the planned  landing they hear Neil Armstrong say “Our position checks downrange show us to be a little long”. There were sharp intakes of breath, they were going to miss their landing target. And then there was silence, the signal was lost. It comes back, relief, but then they hear the dreaded words “1202 programme Alarm” , guidance failure, they will have to switch to manual control.
All eyes turned to Benny Callan from Corduff. He was staring at the screen, a small smile on his face,his hands in his pockets. He seemed calm. This gave the others confidence.

“1201 alarm !” more trouble. With 4 minutes to go Neil Armstrong realizes they are going to land on a dangerous crater and takes the Eagle out of autopilot mode and takes control. Benny Callan from Corduff’s designed control. Armstrong must now manually guide the lunar module down. In the Kennedy Space Centre , Dean Krantz, the mission controller mutes the engineers microphones so the astronauts can’t hear how worried they are. In the adjacent room everyone is staring at Benny Cullen. Benny is standing, a small smile on his face, staring at the screen , his hands in his pockets. Everyone remains calm.  

The Eagle is travelling too fast. Everyone knows it. No one is saying anything.

“60 seconds.”

Everyone holds their breath. Sixty seconds of fuel is not enough to them to land safely.

“30 seconds”.

Silence. In the adjacent room everyone looks to Benny Callan. As before he simply stands there, a small smile on his face, staring at the screen, his hands in his pockets.

And then the radio link crackles into life :

“Houston…Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

There is uproar ! Everyone is cheering, hugging each other. Everyone except Benny Callan. When they turn to look he has fallen to his knees, tears are streaming down his face. As they rush over to see if he’s OK he takes his hands from his pockets and opens them to reveal a set of Rosary beads in each. He looks and smiles, saying “ Jaysus lads, that was close.”

The Eagle lunar landing module is still on the moon and on it is a plaque with the names of the Grumann engineers who built and one of those is Benny Callan, who left Monaghan for New York via  horse and trap, steam train and ship, but without whom no man would have walked on the moon.

I believe that you will live to see similar changes in your lifetime as Benny saw in his, and like him , you will be influential in making them all happen.

And one last thing. In 1916 Ireland operated in a different time zone to England. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time. Previously this had not been an issue, but in the modern world of 1916 with trains and telegraphs it was becoming important that everyone operated to the same standard. And so it was decreed in Westminster that on October 1st as the clocks changed to Winter Time, in Ireland they should go back 35 minutes and 39 seconds to match the new time in England. There was some grumbling in advance but everyone obeyed.

Everyone except the newly Republican Station Master in Ballybay, Sean Moen. He refused to accept the imposition of British time and refused to change the clocks in the station, and more importantly refused to let trains leave his station until the correct time by his watch not Westminster’s.

As you can imagine this played havoc with the train timetables across the whole country, as stations north and south of Ballybay were trying to now operate a schedule that was 35 minutes out of whack with everywhere else.

After two weeks of chaos Bishop McKenna was asked to intervene and with the future promise that the bishop himself would conduct Sean’s funeral mass and refer to him as a patriot in the eulogy ,the Ballybay Station Master put his station clocks back 35 minutes. Peace and prosperity was restored.

I only mention this to highlight two things, firstly never argue with anyone from Ballybay about anything, they are always right. And secondly that his time, those 35 minutes were important to him. They were his. You should value your time. In all of your business plans, wonderful as they all were, none of you had put in a figure or a costing for your time. You had photography, materials, transport, promotion all noted , costed and accounted for, and yet the most precious thing you have, your time, you gave away for free.


Thank you.


P.S. Following a class exercise with Denis this wee I’ve been listening to Regatta de Blanc by The Police, especially, and fittingly “No Time This Time”.,

Author: paul

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