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Working life in the tenements


Published 22 May 2020

Working life in the tenements

Written by 14 Henrietta Street Front of House Manager, Tracey Bardon.

You might look at the people of tenement Dublin and think they were poor and you might even feel sorry for them but in most cases you would be wrong. These were proud, hard-working people who had jobs and earned a wage to put food on their family’s table.

They just happened to live in an overcrowded city with a lot of substandard housing conditions - and we can’t forget the devastation the 1913 lockout brought to the city when there was a dispute between 20,000 workers and 300 employers and the city came to a standstill.

Women’s work

In many cases the women were taken out of school at a young age before they went to secondary school and sent to work, maybe in service as a house maid or sent to a sewing factory to become a machinist, where they would stay until they were married - then they would leave to work in the home. Or they might follow their mothers to the markets and have a tough working life selling anything from fish to second-hand shoes from an old pram or stall.

Smithfield markets

Dublin Corporation built the Smithfield markets in 1892 where here they sold fruit and veg, flowers, and fish. The markets area was a thriving place - men and women would head down very early in the morning to buy the best goods before heading out to sell them on. My Grandad Gallagher worked in the flower market and would be up so early in the morning he couldn't get used to normal hours when he was older and was always up and out at the crack of dawn to look after his own flower garden.

News boys

Young boys like my Da and his brothers also started working at an early age as news boys - they would rush to the paper office on Princess Street next to the GPO in Dublin, after school with enough money to buy five newspapers. (My Da was lucky because his Da, my Grandad Nugent, was the overseer and would always give them an extra paper or two.) They would sell these and go back and buy more to sell.

Then when they were finished they would head home, maybe buy some chips or a single cigarette on the way - they made sure to keep enough money to buy newspapers for the next day and hand up their wage to their Mas for the house keeping. Some of these boys started this as young as six years old.

Connections to Henrietta Street

There was lots of factories in and around Dublin that would have employed many of the tenement men and women. Whether it be the chocolate factory, Williams and Woods, Granby's Sausages, or even Guinness. You might have been a printer like Mr. Brannigan or made number plates like Mr. Lynch - both of whom lived at 14 Henrietta Street at different stages over the years.

What about your family?

Maybe someone in your family were dockers down on the quays or they worked in the cattle market or maybe they were involved or affected by the lockout - I would love to know.

So come on, tell us your story.

Get in touch with us via our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and share your history with us there. 

You can email us too at: memories@14henriettastreet.ie or even give us a call on +353 1 524 0383.

(We mightn’t be able to answer right away but you can leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.)

Written by 14 Henrietta Street Front of House Manager, Tracey Bardon.