Clerys staff bid farewell to Dublin institution

Wynn’s Hotel function gives former employees of store ‘much needed closure’

(Front row l-r) Anne Colgan; Pauline Sharkey; Connell Kelly; Marie O’Dooley; Gretta Connell (Back row l-r) Emer Tobin and Patricia Shorthall, at a function for former Clerys employees. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

(Front row l-r) Anne Colgan; Pauline Sharkey; Connell Kelly; Marie O’Dooley; Gretta Connell (Back row l-r) Emer Tobin and Patricia Shorthall, at a function for former Clerys employees. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Just around the corner from where many of them had spent decades working, former staff of Clerys department store gathered to toast the end of an era last night.

It was described as a “much needed form of closure” for many of the hundreds of people who lost their jobs last June in a lightning-strike blow few saw coming.

Mingling in a function room at the nearby Wynn’s Hotel on Abbey Street, they talked about those who had moved to new jobs, those still trying and those who feared their chance had passed.

“There are people almost at retirement age who are at a bit of a loss. Some of them are getting up in the morning and thinking: Oh, I’m not going to work,” said organiser Jean Nugent, who had worked in the HR department for 22 years.

Emotional

As Ms Nugent hung banners and balloons around a function room filled with photographs, the anticipated 250 attendees, some of whom had retired but turned out in solidarity, filed in.

For them, the gathering was a recognition that while a priceless 162-year-old institution was gone, the memories and camaraderie were not.

Pauline Sharkey, affectionately known as “the voice of Clerys” for her years working the PA system, pointing customers toward bargains and specials, described how the store had been an extension of Dublin life.

“You would have people ringing and saying: I’m meeting my friend under the clock and could you tell them that I’m going to be late,” she said. Simpler times.

When she began in 1972 there were 1,500 employees, eating in separate male and female canteens.

“There was a man who came in every day and he would just sit on the staircase and the staff in the hairdressers would buy him a sandwich. He was an elderly man and I wouldn’t say too badly off, just lonely.”

She recalls the Talbot Street bombing which claimed the lives of two colleagues, and how staff had served tea and coffee to those fleeing the Love Ulster march on O’Connell Street.

Gretta Connell was due to retire just weeks after the closure. She had spent almost 49 years as an employee and like virtually everyone else she talks about it in family terms.

“It was like leaving your home to go into your home,” she said.