Clerys’ clock is a remarkably popular Dublin landmark. It has 4.4 stars out of 5 on Google and some favourable reviews on Google and Tripadvisor. Clerys’ Department Store was bought out of receivership by Denis Guiney in 1941. To mark the 50th anniversary of that purchase, a new clock was installed in 1990, replacing the clock that for a long time has been a sacred location in the culchie geography of the city.
In the ’60s, the front of Clerys would be bustling with people in the evenings. Not far from the dance halls around Parnell Square, it was here, under the clock, that you would arrange to meet a nice young man you had met at a dance. The bus from Flatland (more commonly known as Dublin 6) pulled in near that part of O’Connell Street, so it was a convenient spot to meet and go to a nearby cinema. There were photographers who spent hours plying their trade there, taking photos of young couples, who could then buy copies from a place on Talbot Street.
A building that was destroyed in the Easter Rising, the rebuilt structure inadvertently became a cultural mecca due in part to its convenient location, but also due to the symbolic role of the public clock. Civic time-pieces have been part of our public realm in Europe, stretching back to the thirteenth century. The adoption of time-based organisation had a direct impact on productivity, and the further development of cities. Civic clocks became management tools, meeting points, and symbols of patronage. They were embedded into church towers, and functioned as community resources, until this need was replaced by the widespread use of pocket-watches and domestic clocks. While few church clocks remain, clock towers and street clocks are still part of the public realm, with many of those that remain attached to commercial buildings, such as Clerys.
The seemingly unwavering role this landmark played as a meeting point over the years was likely due cultural inheritance through families. The role of the clock stays consistent, while the relationships, actors, and intention changes. There would be a lot of shuffling in the cold, watching the minutes go by, wondering if a bus was late. Instead of waiting for a fella to go to the cinema with, you now were waiting for a parent, up from the country to do some shopping. When the Spire arrived, this created a chasmic split in allegiances, as some argued that the sheer unmissable scale of the Spire made it a more logical meeting spot for those new to the city. Then, as people got mobile phones and text messages and data got cheaper, less and less people had a need for the ‘agreed meeting point’. Dating has radically changed from the 60’s, with very few on Tinder suggesting to meet at Clerys’ clock, despite how old-timey romantic that might be. More recently, COVID-19 has altered how we gather in public. After serving our social lives for so long, maybe this is the end of meeting under the clock?
Engagement Officer, Irish Architecture Foundation
Image: Frank McGrath, www.independent.ie