The countdown was chanted and the red silk cover was pulled aside to reveal the iconic clock in pride of place as two former Clerys customers stood by with smiles on their faces.
t was good to have it back, they said. The street hadn’t been the same without it.
But while the famous clock might be back, can we truly say the same for Clerys itself?
Stepping through the polished brass doors of the erstwhile Grand Old Dame of O’Connell Street, we were not so sure.
There was the old sweeping staircase but there was something puzzling about it and studying it for a moment, we saw a new window had been inserted into the wall. It revealed an uneasy glimpse of glass and polished chrome that, while adding light, has, perhaps, dimmed the old grandeur.
And without the old welcoming warmth of the staff and the familiar hustle and bustle of the beauty hall – where a temporary exhibition of items from the Clerys archives has gone on display – the air seems somehow chillier and the floors harder.
It might be the Grand Old Dame – but she’s had a nip and a tuck and is, without a doubt, perched up at the bar looking hopeful of seeing some action once more, when the real reopening happens some time in “the second quarter” of 2023.
This is the trouble with revamping old masterpieces – we risk being disappointed if they don’t appear to have kept the warm, beating heart of the original. Though maybe that can be resuscitated in time.
But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the shock closure of the famous Dublin department store eight years ago.
Those were dark days, declared John Crowe, who worked in Clerys from the age of 16 when he started as a pageboy standing inside the door and continued there until the age of 64 when it shut its doors, leaving him bereft.
“I had to go to my doctor – I wasn’t able to sleep. The whole lot was a mental shock – I was used to going to work and then not going to work,” he said.
He took his doctor’s advice to say to himself: “‘John, you’re a retired gentleman.’ The day that happened, it was like a miracle, I never looked back.”
Seeing Clerys’ doors reopening was “a great thing but a very difficult thing”, he said, adding: “It’s great to see that it’s opened for a new generation and please God, hopefully, someone will get the same years as I got out of the company and good memories.”
In the eight years the building was closed, lead was stripped off the roof by thieves.
Master plasterer George O’Malley – who has worked on the restoration of Longford Cathedral and Leinster House – said this had hastened the decline of the building, leaving the plasterwork upstairs “a sodden mess”.
“Some of it had collapsed and it was like a bomb site when we came in,” he said.
“Thieves sold the lead for scrap and it’s a terrible
thing to do anywhere because they would get €500 for that but they caused €5m of damage.”
While the clock outside was restored by horologist, Philip Stokes – who with his father in 1990 had put in the present incarnation of the Clerys clock (there have been three in all), replacing the “plasticky” one that had been there.
This time round, it was his mother’s idea that he should add some little lamps at the top, reflecting the old Clerys logo.
Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin Town, who is distantly related to the original Guineys who owned Clerys, hopes the timely reopening of the old building will bring life back into the north-inner-city district once more and encourage other investment.
“I think what they’ve done is fantastic,” he said.
“They’ve taken the original building but they’ve added something new to it.
“So I think it will again become an iconic building.
“I think it’s the catalyst that will start moving things in the right direction for O’Connell Street and its environs. It’s a great day for Dublin.”
Historian Caitlin White said she spent an intense few weeks going through the archives.
One of her favourite objects was the public dancehall licence for the ballroom upstairs, revealing that Clerys had an in-house orchestra and used to hold dances “seven nights a week until three in the morning”.
Other items include a bell-shaped commemorative object presented by staff in 1946 to Denis Guiney for his silver jubilee of opening the store.
The exhibition opens today and runs until January 30.
Meanwhile, Labour Party workers’ rights spokesperson, Senator Marie Sherlock, has called on the developers of the new Clerys Quarter to live up to their commitments by ensuring that the new commercial centre provides good jobs for workers from the local community and those formerly employed on the site.