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Life in the tenements was hard and brutal

Houses were graded in the census of the time from 'first-class' to 'fourth-class' according to their size and the materials used in their construction. According to official classification, 22,701 people lived in 'third-class' houses which were termed as unfit for human habitation.

One inspector described a first-class tenement house at 41 Camden Street Lower occupied by five families, consisting of 20 persons, as follows: "It has one water closet, is in good repair and I regard this as a first-class tenement."

The fact that one water closet (or toilet) for 20 persons was deemed to be 'first-class' is indicative of the scale of squalor in which thousands of Dubliners lived.

For James Connolly, the living conditions in the Dublin tenements captured the contradictions that he saw in Irish society:

"Ireland is a country of wonderful charity and singularly little justice. And Dublin, being an epitome of Ireland, it is not strange to find that Dublin, a city famous for its charitable institutions and its charitable citizens, should also be infamous for the perfectly hellish conditions under which its people are housed, and under which its men, women and children labour for a living."

Reporting on the conditions in the tenements, the Dublin Citizens' Association Committee on Housing said:

"There are many tenement houses with seven or eight rooms that house a family in each room and contain a population of between 40 and 50 souls. We have visited one house that we found to be occupied by 98 persons, another by 74 and a third by 73.

"The entrance to all tenement houses is by a common door off either a street, lane or alley, and, in most cases, the door is never shut, day or night. The passages and stairs are common and the rooms all open directly either off the passages or landings.

"Most of these houses have yards at the back, some of which are a fair size, while others are very small, and some few houses have no yards at all. Generally, the only water supply of the house is furnished by a single water tap, which is in the yard. The yard is common and the closet accommodation (toilet) is to be found there, except in some few cases in which there is no yard, when it is to be found in the basement where there is little light or ventilation.

"The closet accommodation is common not only to the occupants of the house, but to anyone who likes to come in off the street, and is, of course, common to both sexes. The roofs of the tenement houses are, as a rule, bad . . .

"Having visited a large number of these houses in all parts of the city, we have no hesitation in saying that it is no uncommon thing to find halls and landings, yards and closets of the houses in a filthy condition, and, in nearly every case, human excreta is to be found scattered about the yards and in the floors of the closets and, in some cases, even in the passages of the house itself."

The report of the housing committee provides a vivid picture of tenement conditions. The information was gathered by men who called in person to tenement houses and gathered information on the spot. Their comments as recorded on the information sheets or as given to the committee are very revealing in themselves.

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A witness before the committee described a dwelling he had seen:

"One room, measuring about 10ft square, with a small closet off it, contains absolutely no furniture. The family of nine (seven children) sleep on the floor, on which there is not enough straw for a cat, and no covering of any kind whatever.

The interiors of the tenement rooms were very sparsely furnished. The basic items were bedsteads, bedclothes, tables and chairs (though boxes were often used instead for the last two items).

"In some tenement rooms, the bedstead is not to be seen in its usual place in the corner, but in its stead, there is spread on the floor a mysterious and repellent assortment of rags, which few inquirers have had the hardihood to investigate and which is believed to serve as a bed," wrote DA Chart in a paper he presented in 1914 on housing conditions in Dublin.


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