For over 130 years Dublin would infected by the blight of the slums. In 1849 at the height of the Great Famine half of the population lived in single room tenements. As bad as the tenements were under the British, they got no better under the new Irish government after 1922. It would take decades of campaigning and a profound change in Irish society for the problem of the tenements to finally be tackled, with the last slum closing in 1972 on Henrietta street. On this tour you will explore Dublin's forgotten shame.
The tour begins in Merrion square, once the home of the ruling Protestant ascendancy in 18th century Ireland. You will explore how the grand homes of Georgian Dublin, which would eventually become the tenements, were built and why Dublin fell from a position of wealth and power. The violent 1798 Rebellion and the 1801 Act of Union that created the United Kingdom will be explored. The key event in the creation of the tenements was the Great Famine (1845-1850). By the River Liffey you will look over the sad Famine memorial, and discuss how a potato blight combined with British government negligence resulted in the deaths of perhaps as many as 1.5 million people and the mass emigration of 2 million. Dublin's streets were flooded with refugees from the mass death and the middle classes horrified by this reality moved en mass to the newly created suburbs, leaving the old grand Georgian buildings to the slum landlords. By 1850 half of Dublin's population lived in single room tenements.
At the Custom House (1792) and Liberty Hall (1909) you will learn about the working lives of tenement dwellers. Most tenement men worked on the docks, in unstable employment with few rights and for a pittance pay. It wasn't until the founding of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (1909) that the workers began to organize to improve their lot. At the intersection of Talbot street and Montgomery street you can discuss a notorious red light district that once made the area famous as "The Monto". It was one of the largest in all of Europe, and lasted for over 100 years. It was immortalised in the works of James Joyce, as "Night town". Many tenement women, unable to find work, or without family support fell into the oldest trade as a means to stave off starvation. At Mountjoy Square and Henrietta street the intimate details of tenement life will be discussed. At the height of the slum poverty a given tenement might have 120 residents, with life expectancy in 40s for men and child infant mortality rate at 60% for under 10s. In 1920s Dublin the great playwright Sean O'Casey lived in Mountjoy Square and was the first artist to shed a light on the lives of the denizens of tenement Dublin. Henrietta street was the first of the Georgian streets to be constructed in 1720 and it was the last of the tenements to be evacuated in 1972. At 14 Henrietta street you will enter the new Tenement Museum and learn more about the day to day lives of its denizens.