‘Under Clery’s Clock’ The Blueprint for Queer Music In Ireland

Irish queer artists are re-writing history, transforming moments from our past that were previously drenched in shame, and redefining them as the first glorious shots fired in an insurrection that continues to this day.

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“Under Clery’s clock tonight at eight,
I want to wait, Oh God he’s late!
He stood me up.
The next bus to ‘An Làr’ is his for sure.
10 minutes more I know will bring my love to me…
A love that does not have a name.”

This refrain, from the song ‘Under Clery’s clock’ by Phillip Chevron and ‘The Radiators from Space’, is perhaps the most defining lyric ever to be written about being a gay man in catholic Ireland.

It’s a visceral snapshot of a time in our history when a sizeable but hidden portion of the population was forced to engage in subterfuge in order to attain those things which all humans crave. A loving caress. Companionship that lasts a lifetime. “A love that does not have a name”. To those unaware of the meaning to the central motif of this song, Clery’s was a well-known department store on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and was recognisable for the large clock that hung over its entrance. Still to this day, it hovers, observing the passers-by, even though the business it represents has since closed its doors.

However, unbeknownst to most, Clery’s clock served as a meeting spot for those existing outside of the sexual rigidity that was, at the time, a prime characteristic of Ireland’s staunchly religious status-quo. In layman’s terms, it was a cruising spot. A hookup spot. Call it what you like, but this particular landmark was the focal point for the fledgeling LGBTQ+ community in the Capitol. And a monument to the coerced shame and guilt that queer people had laboured to endure.

The subject matter discussed in Under Clerys clock was deemed obscene by many upon its release. It struggled for radio play and, for years, was rarely discussed with the same reverence as Chevron’s legendary stint as lead guitarist with seminal Celtic-punk band The Pogues.

Thankfully, decades after its original release, the song has been recognised for its cultural significance and is now seen as a tent-pole moment in the story of the equal rights movement in this country. Personally I would put it right alongside the first pride parade to be held on this island (in reaction to the tragic murder of Declan Flynn in Fairview park in September 1982).

Just as that initial pride parade did, Under Clery’s Clock dared to open up our community to the greater world… and the dangers that lay their-in. It’s an undeniably inspiring show of openness and defiance and, thankfully, it was the beginning of something wonderful.

Fast forward thirty-three years and the fruits of Chevron’s bravery stand amongst you in plain sight. Queer artists and entertainers are engrained in the fabric of Irelands nightlife, bringing with them a vibrant unrestrained joie-de-vivre, a revolutionary spirit, and an intriguing hidden history that is both inspirational and cautionary.

Irish queer artists are re-writing history, transforming moments from our past that were previously drenched in shame, and redefining them as the first glorious shots fired in an insurrection that continues to this day.

Queer music is uniquely special because within it lies an opportunity it’s artists to tell stories that are different from the majority of those presented in the mainstream.

This year, for example, saw Irish drag superstar Veda release a record with lauded guitarist Lady K that was staggering in its open-ness of subject-matter and heartwarming in its simplicity. It’s a mirror into Vedas soul and it’s content serves as a line reaching back to 1987 and those who waited nervously and patiently beneath Cleary’s clock, and connecting us all together. This community is still bold. We are still brave. And we will continue to be.

The current crop of LGBTQ+ artists in Ireland is so very exciting. Hungry and talented musicians such as Elm, Bitch Falcon, Daithi Rua, Pure Grand, and Wyvern Lingo are primed to elevate queer music to the very pinnacle of mainstream culture.

Our community has taken huge steps towards acceptance and this is reflected in our position within the wider musical landscape. But make no mistake about it these artists will still have to endure countless hardships along the way, and some will have to fight harder than their peers for opportunities based solely on their sexuality or gender identity. It’s a sad fact of life. The struggle may always be there but it’s important to remember that we have a weapon that can not be deflected.

We have our voice.

And thanks to trail-blazers like Phil Chevron we know how to use it.

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