No doubt, you’ve heard of “Strumpet City”, James Plunkett’s classic novel of Dublin in the early 1900s and you probably remember poor ould Rashers Tierney from the TV drama series of the same story.
Rashers was a lovable tramp who eked out a living in the rickety tenements of Dublin in those terrible times. His precarious life was brought home to me recently, when I visited the Tenement Museum in Henrietta Street.
At first glance, Henrietta Street looks like a movie set, a grand street from the Georgian period, and it seems oddly out of place in Dublin’s north inner city, but once you take the time to investigate, its amazing story is revealed, layer by layer, and you come away with a deeper understanding of the social history of Dublin over the last 270 years. Indeed, you might find yourself looking again at the fabric of the city and discovering new stories in every brick and stone.
No.14 Henrietta Street, where the museum is located, was built in 1749, and began life as the auspicious home of Lord Viscount Molesworth and his family. However, after the Act of Union in 1800 when power shifted back to London, Dublin entered a period of economic decline and by 1877, the building had been redesigned as a series of 19 separate flats.
We can see by the 1911 census that it had become home to over 100 people (and possibly much more than that as many homeless people were known to have occupied the stairs and landings as well).
But the museum is really interesting because it presents in one tour – the Georgian grandeur of the piano nobile, the worst of tenement accommodation in the basement and then, a replica flat from 1979 just before the building was finally abandoned.
That replica flat reminded me of my grandmother’s house (or was it my mother’s house?) with the sewing machine, the box of buttons, the old radio, the post office savings book, the carbolic soap, the tea cosy… I wasn’t expecting it – but it was such a lovely, moving experience.
Henrietta Street is just an 8 minute walk from Parnell Square and, of course, Parnell Square is the new cultural quarter in town. There’s so much to see in this quarter – The Hugh Lane Municipal Art Gallery, the Writers’ Museum, the Gate Theatre, Poetry Ireland, Hillsboro Fine Art, the James Joyce Centre, and of course, The Olivier Cornet Gallery. Always worth a visit.