The old man and the alarm clock: the pub photo that went viral

Image of man keeping to Covid-19 rules described as ‘Carravaggio for this age’

He is already known as the man with the clock. When publican Fergus McGinn took a photograph of one of his customers and put it on his Facebook page, he hadn't reckoned with the interest it would generate.

The photograph shows his elderly customer drinking a pint of Guinness, his finished “substantial” meal in front of him. He is staring into space.

It is the alarm clock that gets to you. The man in question, unlike most of the rest of us, has no mobile phone or watch to keep the time so brought his alarm clock with him so he would not go over the allotted time of one hour and 45 minutes in the pub as a result of Covid-19 restrictions

It was taken in McGinn's Hop Store in Woodquay, Galway city on Monday evening by the pub owner with his mobile phone.


“I only did it for our own Facebook page because I’m not big on social media, but it was tweeted on it gained massive coverage,” Mr McGinn said.

“I was scared about it at first for the old man in particular. When it went viral, I thought it would upset him, but I checked with neighbours this morning. He was chuffed.”

Mr McGinn said he didn’t want to name the man in question, but he is local, born and bred in Galway city and worked in what is now Galway University Hospital for nearly 50 years. The identity of the man has since been confirmed as John Joe Quinn from Bohermore, Galway city.

A brother was killed serving with the US army in Korea and another sister lives in the United States.

“He was conscious of the time and wanted to keep track of it. That was the poignant part of it. He only had the two [pints] anyway,” he said.

“He wouldn’t be out too regularly. He had some business in town. That’s why he was out and about. I’d hadn’t seen him during lockdown.”

When he was asked for his contact tracing details, the man said he had no phone, but gave his home address instead.

Mr McGinn said the photograph has been interpreted by many people including himself as symbolising a “generation that missed out on all that social activity during the lockdown and that interaction with people”.

The photograph was described as the "Carravaggio for this age" by the poet Rye Aker who was commissioned by Galway 2020 to record the year in poetry.

He was so taken by it that he immediately penned the poem, The Man With The Clock.

It concludes: "But for now, there is the soft satisfaction of a bit washed down with a fine pint. A Ta Siad Ag Teacht for the age that's in it, And a clock stopped to hold the world from speeding the way it does."

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times