Under the Clock: A socio-sexual history of Ireland

Review: Few millennials will know Clery’s clock was a meeting place for courting couples

Clery's clock in Dublin was the meeting place in central Dublin for years, this documentary looks at relationships that started there.

Peter and Kathleen Cullen in ‘Under the Clock’

Film Title: Under the Clock

Director: Colm Nicell


Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 76 min

Thu, Oct 4, 2018, 10:18


In recent years a newish genre of Irish documentary has found a welcome place in the cultural landscape. Given prominence by Ken Wardrop in his miraculous His & Hers, developed later in The Irish Pub and Older than Ireland, the form presents us with an array of domestic voices – stretched across the generations – talking movingly around a particular theme.

Colm Nicell, cinematographer on Older than Ireland, has happened upon a delightful binding notion for this latest contribution to the oral chronicle. Under the Clock goes among various Dubliners whose lives were changed by encounters outside Clery’s department store on O’Connell Street.

The landmark clock is still there, but few people born after 1980 are likely to remember it as a key meeting place for courting couples. It is thus unsurprising that most of Nicell’s subjects – all well chosen – are at the business end of middle age. That accommodates the theme. It also allows the film-makers to string the conversations together into a socio-sexual history of Ireland over the last half-century.

The film parts company from the clock early on and makes only fleeting return visits. This is a bit of a sham

The charmingly named musician Ray Gunn, who sadly died after filming, talks movingly about his late wife’s battles with alcoholism. Peter and Kathleen Cullen remember plates of chips in the long-defunct Cafe Ritz on Abbey Street (the sign still hangs spookily). Philippa Ryder offers fascinating insights into life as a trans woman 20 years ago.

The film parts company from the clock early on and makes only fleeting return visits. This is a bit of a shame. It’s a lovely idea and it would be nice to get more on the atmosphere of O’Connell Street in earlier decades.

But the impressively unsentimental portrait of the wider nation offers many surprises. There is less nostalgia for vanished mores than one might expect. Nobody spoke of sex. A girl was considered on the shelf if she failed to get married by her early 20s. We are reminded that women didn’t travel just for abortion; they were often shamed into emigration even if they were having the baby.

Still, you can’t keep humans from complaining. Like everybody everywhere of a certain age, they get stuck into Tinder, mobile phones and the hectic pace of modern life. Isabelle Duff, the only millennial contributor, amusingly frames such complaints as “giving out on the Joe Duffy show”. There are worse things.

Opens Friday October 5th