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LONDON CALLING FOR THE DOWNINGS ‘TARDIS’!

first_imgPat McClafferty, Downings (right) with Brendan Vaughan, Carrigart and Kevin Moran, MP Moran and Sons Ltd., sponsors of the hard wood.Doctor Who would be lost without his, while Superman couldn’t get into that crime-fighting lycra without one. And now the humble telephone box is being put to another out-of-this-world use, thanks to the efforts of a Donegal super-hero.Well, a carpenter and joiner, truth be told.By Peter Carbery But when Pat McClafferty’s latest handiwork raises thousands of pounds for good causes at this year’s London Vintage Day, it’ll make him feel like Time Lord and Caped Crusader rolled into one.London-born Pat, with Downings parents has spent this year building an exact replica of an Irish telephone box in his Wembley workshop.It’s been a labour of love sparked by a conversation with his old friend Brendan ‘Tiny’ Vaughan, whose powers of persuasion will be familiar to many at Tir Chonaill Gaels today.“I’d been to a couple of Vintage Rally days without ever bumping into Brendan,” said Pat, “but he eventually got back in touch and mentioned the idea of making a telephone box. He’d made a pair of wheelbarrows that raised over £3,000 at auction last year, but was worried the box might be too ambitious a project. So I said, why don’t I make it? I’ve got the setup here. “We went up to the Claddagh Ring in Hendon on a cold Sunday morning in January and took some measurements of an original phone box they’ve got outside the pub. Freezing, it was. Brendan forgot his long-johns. And that’s how it started.”It’s hard to explain to today’s mobile-obsessed generation just how important the telephone box was in an era where communication couldn’t be taken for granted – and was all the more precious for that.Since the first one was installed on Dawson Street, Dublin in 1925, they brought news of births and deaths and played a central role in the lives of those both lovesick and homesick.“They’re an iconic piece of Irish history,” said Pat. “There was one in every town, and random boxes rurally. And that was the only means of communication that people had with their sons and daughters, fathers working in America, Australia, England.“They used to queue up outside these boxes on a certain day, and it was all orderly and fun: Mickey would be phoning at 7pm, Johnny would be phoning at a quarter past seven.“And if someone phoned early by mistake you’d be called in up from the queue.” In recent years the development of mobile technology meant an old way of life and Irish culture has been forgotten, and many phone boxes sadly began to fall into disrepair.“A lot of these boxes started getting derelict, smashed to pieces not cared for, and eventually a company was given the contract to take them down,” said Pat.“And there’s been uproar over it – you had people lying down in the road in front of the lorries sent to tear down the boxes. The Tidy Town committees have adopted some of them of late, tarting them up with flowers – but of course, they don’t work as telephones any more.”Since 2009 nearly all the original boxes have been dismantled and destroyed. At present there may be only half a dozen still in operation. Gone, perhaps, but definitely not forgotten. Restoration has been very much a theme of Pat’s recent business. Having served his time in carpentry and site management, he had a successful career running reinforced concrete frames and groundworks projects and worked his way up to construction director in an organisation before setting up Rosguill Construction – named after the Downings peninsula that was home to his late father, Pat. Much of his work now involves restoring old Victorian and Edwardian features, allowing the owners to enjoy the benefits of high-class period reproduction along with modern improvements such as double glazing.Now he is putting that experience to good use. The original phone boxes were made out of pre-cast concrete – the only timber parts were the doorframe and the door. To replicate the concrete sections in wood Pat had to use mortise and secret tenon joints. It would have been next to impossible with the equipment he had but help was at hand.“I sent an email to Festool UK explaining what I wanted to do, and about all the charities that would benefit from the Vintage Day, and within 24 hours they’d kindly agreed to loan me a state-of-the-art mobile joining tool. “Within two hours of opening the box and reading the instruction booklet I’d 108 mortises cut: that saved me around three days’ work. Unbelievable piece of kit.”Others were equally quick to lend their services free of charge.“Dave Cannon, who works on the Vintage Club website and Facebook page, is into graphic design and sign writing – he painted the Gaelic ‘Telefón’ script on the box.“The timber was supplied and delivered by Kevin Moran of MP Moran, I’ve been donated the glass by Mick ‘The Glass’ Feehan of Imperial Windows, Harrow, while Crown Paints sponsored the cream and green paint that will be used by a neighbour, John McCready.“And the concrete base it’ll be sitting on came courtesy of Gerry Rochford of Rochford Construction Ltd.“It’s all about spreading the love.”The father-of-three is doing all this in his spare time, although if you believe wife Anne-Marie – Aussie-born of a Westmeath father – it’s Pat’s job that’s having to fit around the box construction. So, how many man hours will it have taken from start to finish?“I would say, going at it full-time, I’d have spent a good seven weeks on the finished product. And they’d be 10-hour days. “There’s an incredible amount of detail and research that goes into the work, converting from concrete to wood. I’ve never done anything like this before, so if I do make another one I’ll probably manage to get it down to five to six weeks.“I’ve no idea how much it’s going to raise but any number of people could be interested. It’s ideal for a pub, it’s idea for a venue, a ‘subbie’ could have it in the office or yard – it’s a great talking point.”Because the box is being put up for a charity auction no expense has been spared in the project, using hardwood throughout and individual traditional Georgian glazing bars for the panels of glass – other replica boxes would ‘cheat’ by using a whole sheet of glass overlaid on either side with frames.The box is made in such a way that ‘she’ (as Pat calls his creation) can be dismantled and easily put back together again, so that the prospective owner can choose any space, however inaccessible, in which to display their new possession.“Even up on the 15th floor of Peckham Towers!”When it comes to working with wood, Pat is a great believer in having a natural feel for the material. “It’s gotta be in you, and if it’s in you it’ll come out,” he said.It’s clearly a family trait. Both his father and his uncle Charlie left Downings to work in shuttering in Glasgow, before moving down to London.“Dad was a first and second fixer who ended up in shuttering because that was where the money was, but he did roofing too. They could do anything, those blokes.”Pat’s grandfather John Andy, who died in 1972, was infamous around Downings. He was a fisherman and, more importantly, the go-to man in the area when it came to building currachs. Back in the day the National Museum of Ireland, keen to display a collection, sent a letter to all the Gaeltacht boatyards in the country asking for a currach to be made in the local style.“The letter came into Mevagh boatyard and even though John Andy didn’t work there they sent it straight to him,” recalled Pat.The Downings-style currach he made is now part of the 19-strong collection in the museum’s Mayo gallery in Castlebar.“Now, because of the family connection, I can ring them up and say I’ll be visiting on August 26 or whenever, and they’ll make sure it’s out on display that day.”So, after 28 years in the carpentry business, how does he feel about making his first telephone box. Will it also be his last?“God, I hope not! I hope on the day there are publicans and subbies outbidding each other so the price goes sky-high for the charity, and then those who didn’t win come and place orders with me. There may be film companies who’d use them as props, they’d be ideal.“It wouldn’t need to be as expensive as the one I’ve done – for instance, I could use softwood instead of hardwood, that’ll save you a grand straight away.“I’d love to have a production line of them, send ’em round the world!”How fitting that would be: given his mother Bridget (née Griffin) is from Killorglin, Co Kerry, it’s fair to say that Pat himself is a by-product of long-distance communication.And what of the auction… any nerves?“On the day, when that box is standing there on the grass, I’ll be as proud as punch. Delighted. The aul’ head will be out here…”And the hands that crafted a piece of old Ireland rise up a couple of feet either side of a beaming face.Photo captPat McClafferty, Downings (right) with Brendan Vaughan, Carrigart and Kevin Moran, MP Moran and Sons Ltd., sponsors of the hard wood.LONDON CALLING FOR THE DOWNINGS ‘TARDIS’! was last modified: August 5th, 2015 by StephenShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:donegalDowningsLondonPat McClaffertyphoneboxtardislast_img read more