For years courting couples had a recognisable landmark where they met on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. Anne Frehill tells the history of Clerys’ department store which stood like a beacon in the heart of the capital


Dublin has always been a magnet for enthusiastic Irish shoppers, and for many years Clerys’ department store was the principal destination for many of these shoppers to visit.

Unlike some of its rivals, it served the needs of both town and country families. Here, the wily shopper could find something for every stage of life: from baptism through communions, confirmations, debutante balls, graduations, weddings, and the retirement years. It truly helped customers to “hatch, match and dispatch” their loved ones.
From its inception to well into the late 20th century, it also had a whole section devoted to the Catholic clergy where everyone from a humble curate to the most venerated bishop could find suitable apparel for his place in the hierarchy.

Clerys opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1853 and was then known as “The New Mart”, situated on 23-28 Lower Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street. It was renamed Clerys in 1883 when it was purchased by M.J. Clery of Limerick.

It was one of the first department stores, managed by Peter McSwiney, George Delaney and Co. The former was related to both James Joyce and Daniel O’Connell.

Over the years it had its own internal struggles but ultimately proved itself as a store beloved by both young and not so young, despite having many of the major events of Dublin’s history played out on its doorstep.
These included the burning down of Clerys and its neighbour, The Imperial Hotel, during Easter week of 1916.
The firm moved to the temporary location of the Metropolitan Hall in Lower Abbey Street.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own