Derelict Dublin: Images of the City from 1913
Published on 3rd March 2011
"These bricks were returning once more to dust, one by one these walls would bulge outwards, crack, collapse into rubble. They were despised and uncared for, like the tenants they sheltered, who lived for the most part on bread and tea and bore children on rickety beds to grow up in the same hardship and hunger".
James Plunkett, Strumpet City (1969)
" I condemn the whole of the tenement system now existing. It breeds misery; and worse. It causes a great waste of human life and human force; men, women and children can never rise to the best that is in them under such conditions".
John Cooke, Report into Housing Conditions (1914)
This series of photographs is taken from the report of the Departmental Committee appointed to inquire into the housing conditions of the working classes of Dublin. The pictures give great insight into the miserable life in the overcrowded and poverty-stricken tenements and courts of Dublin in 1913.
Published by the Local Government Board for Ireland, the inquiry was prompted by the collapse of two tenement buildings at No. 66 and No. 67 Church Street on the evening of 2 September 1913. Of those trapped in the buildings, seven died – including three children - and many others were seriously injured. The tragedy highlighted the dreadful conditions of many of the buildings in Dublin, both in terms of the physical fabric of the dwellings and the endemic overcrowding in the city’s tenements and courts. The report was presented to Parliament in February 1914, but with the outbreak of war in the summer of that year the housing conditions of Dublin ceased to be a political priority.
The report remains, however, a valuable record of the living conditions of the poor of Dublin in the early part of the twentieth century. It records the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions of the tenement buildings and the small shanty type cottages where the majority of the slum dwellers lived. It found that 87,305 lived in the tenements in inner city Dublin, the vast majority living in a single room. The families in these tenements and in the many “courts” and “yards usually had to share a single water tap and water closet. In addition to these photographs, statistical information and recommendations for future activity, the report contains the extensive Minutes of the Public Enquiry, in which landlords, Corporation officials and interested parties such as clergymen put forward their views on the current housing situation in Dublin.
A Note on the Photographs
The photographs were probably taken in September, October, and early November 1913. They were presented to the Dublin Housing Inquiry in November 1913 by John Cooke, Honorary Treasurer of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). The photographs were taken by Cooke and W.J. Joyce (an officer of the NSPCC). Most of the photos were published in the Report on Housing Conditions (1914). In November 2010 the Digital Projects Section of Dublin City Public Libraries found a further set of previously unidentified photos that were likely to have been taken in 1913. These photos constitute numbers 01-02 and 62-75 of the image gallery.
Dublin City Public Libraries would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and Christian Corlett, author of Darkest Dublin (Dublin: Worldwell, 2008), in the compilation of this image gallery.
Dublin City Libraries has a wide range of sources on the social, political, and cultural history of Dublin, some of which are available online and some through the Dublin City Libraries network.
The Reading Room, Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street holds a wealth of material on the history of Dublin, including books, pamphlets, journals, street directories, and almanacs.
The following online resources can be accessed free of charge at your local library. Ask library staff for information and assistance.
- DRI - Digital Repository of Ireland is a national digital repository for Ireland’s humanities, social sciences, and cultural heritage data. Here you will find select digital collections of Dublin City Library and Archive including the Fáilte Ireland Photographic Collection.
- Irish Times Digital Archive: This online archive service gives access to contemporary editions of the Irish Times from the mid-nineteenth century until the present.
- Irish Newspaper Archive: This online archive service gives access to contemporary editions of the Irish Independent and a range of other newspapers.
- The Ireland-JSTOR Collection: This online archive of academic articles can also be accessed free of charge at your local library.
For further reading, consult the Library Catalogue.