Gerry Markey’s heart sinks when he passes what he calls the jewel in the crown of O’Connell Street on the Luas on his way home from work.
Memories flood back of his days working in the stylish building that once housed Clerys department store with its large, bright window displays and famous art deco clock.
At first, he was a tailor in a workshop producing made-to-measure suits and carrying out alterations, at a time when customers could buy cloth by the yard.
Later, he became a supervisor in the men’s department.
On one occasion, he gave Gerry Adams advice on a coat.
“Oh, God, yeah, I was there for a long time,” he says.
“For over 33 years. I was looking forward to ending my working days there. It was a fantastic place to work in.
“It was great management-wise and there were great work colleagues, like a large family. Christmas time would be an amazing time to work in the store and looking after all the children coming up to see Santy.”
He speaks of an Ireland of not so long ago that now seems lost forever.
“I used to cut soutanes for the priests,” he says. “They had buttons on the front and different coloured piping, depending on the different ranks of bishops.”
This involved trips to Maynooth to measure men about to be ordained. He would compete with another tailor, Donal Stanley of Marlborough Street.
“I was the last man when they closed the workshop as it was not viable,” he says. “I knew I had to do something, so I asked to be moved to the sales floor.”
But then about 5pm on a Friday in June 2015, a loud message came over the PA system at the store.
While the arms of the landmark clock outside kept moving, Clerys as he’d known it had come to a halt.
“They made an announcement that the store was to close, and all departments should send their money to the vault,” he says. “They had a lock keeper come in and he knew every lock in the store that needed to be changed.”
Some staff refused to leave. “All food was put in the bin,” he says. “There was nothing to eat. Some customers had bought gift vouchers that day and went home and didn’t know what was happening.
“At 9pm, we heard an announcement on TV that the store had ceased trading and the jobs were gone. They didn’t have any money.”
Clerys had been sold for €1 and the building for €29m by its American owners Gordon Brothers to a consortium called Natrium Investment Group. A total of 460 jobs were lost.
He was broken-hearted.
“Oh, God, yeah, I felt like my life had been stolen from me after 33 years’ service, because I felt I was going to finish all my days there,” he says. “That was my life plan and what I was going to do. To have it stolen from you and no redundancy, no respect, no negotiations… It was poorly done. There were two or three people from some families working there.
“Nobody realised what they were up to. There were no rumours. Everything was kept hush-hush.”
He was grateful for the government giving the minimum statutory redundancy almost instantly. “That kind of kept me going,” he says.
He recalls a woman who used to work there “couldn’t come into town after that”.
“It really affected her. It was part of her routine to go to Clerys and do a bit of shopping and it was like a second home for her.”
But in the last few weeks, Gerry has felt happier looking out the window of the Luas on his journey home to Finglas from work at Harvey Norman in Rathfarnham – a move he describes as “crossing the border” to the southside. The landmark building is being prepared for its reopening later this year as a new ‘Clerys Quarter’.
“When the Luas passes by, I’d see the hoarding coming down bit by bit,” he says.
“I’m certainly bitter at the way my life was stolen from me but going forward I’m a person for whom the glass is half full rather than half empty.
“It’s lovely to see it reopening again. Seven-and-a-half years is a long time for it to be closed. O’Connell Street lost its jewel in the crown. It certainly needs it. For nearly 30 years it’s been very desolate. Hotels and banks have closed.
“So there’s a lot gone wrong with O’Connell Street and I hope with Clerys opening up, it will breathe new life into the air.”