Sunday 23 October 2016

Terry Prone: Clerys Closure is a crushing blow for generations of Dubliners

Clerys clock

It took the brutality of the new owners' approach to the workforce to make the memories of Clerys come flooding back - and to make many former customers realise just how long it is since they'd been in what was once a unique landmark of the Dublin streetscape.

Clerys, when I was a little girl, still had pneumatic change machines. Clutching my mother's gloved hand, I would stand, riveted, as the assistant rolled up the banknotes, stuffed them into a container and popped it into a tube that noisily sucked it up and away to a hidden office.

Clerys was where my First Holy Communion shoes were bought, after I had tried them on and stepped into an X-ray machine that established that they were roomy enough or too roomy.

Those X-ray machines were dangerous and - as the cancer-causing potential became clear - were removed, but until that happened, the best part of buying new shoes was watching the bones in your own feet moving when you scrunched your toes on command.

Clerys was where my grandmother mortified me by bargaining. My mother took her to get what everybody back then called "the good winter coat", and when she had selected the one she liked she asked the price. The assistant told her. "And what's the price to me?" my grandmother asked, with a little simper indicative of a special relationship with the assistant that justified a discount.

To a suburban Dublin kid, a price was a price, full stop. To a 70-year-old Mayo woman, a price was the start of an enjoyable haggle, without which no shopping expedition would be complete.

The department store was a wonderful world within a world, stocking everything from curtains to stockings made of lisle, a particularly gruesome yarn.

At Christmas they had the best Santa, with seriously good presents.

Scarves and blouses were kept in individual mahogany drawers that slid in speedy silence to reveal protective tissue paper. Downstairs, a woman whose name eludes me but who my mother always introduced as "the finest female golfer this country has produced" presided over a basement department where clubs and handsome leather tubes for carrying them crowded each other in agree-able confusion.

And when all the shopping was done, it was time to have lunch or coffee or afternoon tea in the restaurant.

Clerys looked out on lines of green CIE buses, where once it had looked out on horse-drawn carriages, it being arguably the definitive and perhaps the first real department store in Ireland.


This year, it turned 162. Some of the old black and white Easter Rising photos show it burning.

However, it was re-built and re-opened to serve Dublin for the rest of the century.

To have it cease to trade with the sudden loss of close to 500 jobs, just before 2016, may not be a tragedy, but to second and third-generation Dubs it's a crushing end to a beloved institution that was truly iconic in its day.

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