Poor Dublin ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

If your family lived in Dublin in the early 20th century they may have inhabited the vast city slums and struggled to survive in impoverished living conditions, says Nicola Morris.

Chris Moyles gained an insight into the struggle that his grandmother, Hannah Nelson, and her family faced, growing up in one of the worst tenements in Dublin city.

“It moves compassion....by what it implies....the true explanation of the innumerable sorrowful and hopeless faces which make Dublin just now the saddest city in the United Kingdom,” stated Sir Charles Cameron in 1912.

Of the sixty thousand families in Dublin city in 1901, over thirty per cent were accommodated in one room. The grand Georgian homes of the ruling class, abandoned after the Act of Union, were subdivided into one or two roomed tenements, each room accommodating up to ten people. Water had to be carried up to the rooms and cooking facilities consisted of a small grate.

The buildings were not secure and vagrants often slept in the halls. Lack of sanitation was significant with instances where the single outside privy was common to more than one building. Families struggled to survive on meager incomes, and it was not uncommon for clothing, furniture and bedding to be pawned from week to week in order to buy food and coal.

Under these conditions it was not surprising that TB was responsible for the death of one sixth of the population of Ireland in 1905 and the mortality rate in Dublin rivaled that of cities like Moscow and Rio de Janeiro.

While it may seem impossible to trace this undocumented class, there are sources available that will shed a great deal of light on their life at the time.

Photo © Getty Images

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