Mount Street Club: A unique response to unemployment in Dublin

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Exhibition Room at Dublin City Library and ArchiveA fascinating new exhibition about the Mount Street Club was launched on Monday 1 Dec at Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, D2 and is now open to public until 23 December 2014.The exhibition was curated by Dominic and Sarah Perrem on behalf of the Mount Street Club Trust and it provides an illustrated chronology of the work of the  Club over an 80 year period.

The original items on display in glass cabinets are  from the archives of the Mount Street Club  held at Dublin City Library and Archive.  It also includes photographs from the Dublin City Photographic Collection  which highlight the poor living conditions of many Dubliners in 1930s-1960s and an RTÉ documentary about the history of the Club.

Macken Street Image from 1962The Mount Street club was established in 1934 by Philip Townsend Somerville-Large and Major James Hardress Warrenne Waller to provide assistance to unemployed men in Dublin.  The Club, based at 81/82 Mount Street, Dublin 2, worked on the principle that instead of handing out payments such as ‘the dole’ or charitable donations it was much better for men to work in providing for their own livelihood and that of their families.  In 1939, the Club purchased a farm, ‘Larkfield’ in Clondalkin, Co. Dublin which gave the men employment and provided food and other materials for use in producing other goods.  The Club did not pay money to the men who worked in the Club or on the farm but had their own currency in operation, the ‘tally’.  This was a system whereby the men worked on an activity in return for a certain number of tallies which could then be exchanged within the Club for food or other goods.  After World War II, an increase in unemployment benefit and emigration led to falling membership and during this time the tally system ended. 

Mount Street Club Notice for MenThe farm was bought by Dublin Corporation in the early 1970s for a housing scheme.  The lease ended in Mount Street in 1974 and the Club moved premises to 62/63 Fenian Street.  The men who had lived at the Mount Street Club Farm were then housed in hostels, paid for by the Club.  From this time onwards, the men applied to join the Club and employers contacted the management for workers.  In this way, the men were assigned to various jobs and paid in cash by employers.  In 1979, the ground floor of the building was given rent free to the Mount Street Club Day Activity Centre for the disabled, which was run by the Eastern Health Board.  In 1984, the arrangement of all casual work for men ended and the building at Fenian Street was no longer used to house the Club.

In the late eighties, feasibility studies were commissioned in order to pursue new lines of activity which was the impetus for the Club involvement in the community schemes of Grand Canal Docks Trust and the education and skills training of the Irish Nautical Trust. Eventually, it was decided that the Mount Street Club was no longer true to its original principles laid down in 1934 as a club for unemployed workers, and thus it was dissolved in 2006.

The exhibition will run at Dublin City Library and Archive from 1December -23 December, and opening hours are Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm, and Fri-Sat 10am-5pm

Cover of Mount Street Club publicationAn insightful history of the Mount Street Club has been published this year by Mercier Press with contributions from Peter Somerville-Large, Mary E. Daly, Colin Murphy, Sarah Campbell, and Sarah Perrem. The book, which can be borrowed from our libraries, explores the impact of this unique philanthropic organisation and includes oral history accounts from individuals who have been impacted by the Club.

Anyone interested in carrying out further research is welcome to consult  the Mount Street Club archive in Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room.The archive represents an important record of the social history of Dublin over eight decades.  The uniqueness of this Archive is highlighted in the fact that it documents groups of people, namely the unemployed and disadvantaged, who were traditionally ignored from official records.  The collection includes a wide range of records including minutes, correspondence, financial and legal records, reports, plans and photographs which paint a comprehensive picture of how the Club functioned.

Many thanks  to Deirdre O’Connell, temporary archivist with Dublin Public Libraries, who listed the Mount Street Club archives & provided some of the text for this article.

Comments

I was born at The Mount St Club Farm, Clondalkin in 1960. My father was farm Manager. We lived there until it's compulsory acquisition by Dublin County Council in 1972/3 ish.

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