At Work

“I started work at 13.  That was in Capel Street just before Christmas making up Christmas stockings.

There were about ten of us in a dog box of a room.  I worked there until the Christmas and then, of course, we had to be let go.

Then I went up to a factory in Rutland Street that made the firelighters. There were four pieces of stick which we would tie together, dip them in tar and then in something else.

I used to deliver papers in the evenings to the cottages by the strand. We sold the Sunday morning papers outside William Street Church.”


“There was not much work in those times but I got a job bringing milk down from the Loop Line Railway, as we called it – it’s now Connolly Station.

I had to drag big churns of milk in big cans. You see, the farmers used to send the milk up from the country to the dairies in Dublin and they would employ you to collect it. I would be waiting at the station for the trains to bring it up. I had a big handcart and when it would come in, I would load the milk up and take it down to the dairies in Gloucester Place, where the people would be waiting for it.

I was 13 years old then. It was hard work pulling the handcart through the cobblestone streets, but it helped to bring in that extra few shillings for my mother.”


“When I left school, I worked for a woman out of Palgrave and Murphy’s cleaning the rooms after the cattlemen went through them.

I’d have to use a coal shovel to scoop up the cow dirt and then get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor.  I got 1/6d for doing that.

I also worked at Weaver’s and Richards and then Jacob’s but I got the sack after they found out I’d altered my references to show better school grades.”

The cattle market on North Circular Road in Dublin c 1910

The cattle market on North Circular Road, Dublin. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Cattle in the city

"I worked all my life. I used to do skivvying for six shillings a week, cleaning people’s houses. I’d go out to Clontarf and do people’s places and generally get two half-crowns – and your bus fare came out of that."


“I left school when I was 13 years old and I got a part-time job working as a messenger boy at 30 shillings a week.

I left that job and got another one working in O’Keeffe’s timber yard in East Wall as a machine helper.  There were lots of local lads from Sheriff Street working there.

The timber yards around East Wall employed so many boys that they used to call it “Boys’ Town”.  After about two years in O’Keefe’s I left and started to help my father – he was the local coalman in Sheriff Street.

Just Like the American Goldrush!

When the Corporation were digging up the cobble stones in Sheriff Street, they found these big wooden tar blocks underneath.  Somebody from the flats took one of the blocks home and burned it.  Word got out that the wood blocks gave off a lot of heat.

The Corporation didn’t have to bother digging up the road after that.  Everyone came out and were digging up the road like mad to get the wooden blocks.  They were using all sorts of tools to dig it up and they had prams and box-carts ready to carry away the blocks they dug up.

My father could not sell his coal for weeks because the people from the flats had stockpiled the blocks.  It was like something you would see on the television about the gold rush in America – hoards of people digging up the ground.”


“When I came home from school, me and my brother Ned went out and sold newspapers to help bring in an extra few shillings for my mother.

We sold the newspapers at Edge’s Corner down in Fairview. We used to sell the Evening Mail, but Saturday evening was the best time to sell the newspapers.

I used to run up in my bare feet to the Evening Mail offices, over near Dublin Castle, wait there for the Sports Mail to come out and when it came out I would run all the way back to Fairview to sell them. People would be going mad to get the sports results in the paper, which was only a penny ha’penny.

The people were in that much of a hurry to get the sports results that they would hand you two pennies and tell you to keep the change.

From all them ha’penny tips I saved up I was able to buy a pony and trap. I used the pony and trap to sell coal around the neighbourhood. It was tuppence – two pennies – a stone of coal. Then I used to collect the coal over in the docks and I also sold coal outside my house in Foley Street.”


“I got a job working in the Government as an office cleaner.  I was paid 30 shillings a week but I had to leave due to an accident I had.

I started to sell newspapers again – I sold them as a young girl.  My father, Willie, sold them outside Amiens Street station for many a year.

I also sold them at the Five Lamps, facing Seville Place, and outside St. Laurence O’Toole’s Church on Sundays.  I used to go over to Chatham Row to collect The Graphic, The Victor and the News of the World.

At that time, the News of the World was banned from Ireland.  If you were caught selling that newspaper you got a summons to go to court and were fined.  But I never got caught selling it.

I used to get about two dozen copies off this man I knew over in Chatham Row.  He used to say to me, “Eva, hide them; don’t get caught with them”.  I would sell them outside the church.”

Newsboy Tim O Brien late 1930s
Newsboys on Sean MacDermott boys

"I went to work in Brady’s clothes factory in Foley Street. I was 14 years old at the time. I worked as a presser but I left it and got another job in Tosh Fashions in Talbot Street."


“I remember we were not long living down in Sheriff Street when my father bought me a donkey – a black ass.

He then got me a cart and so I got a job chopping and delivering wood around Mountjoy Square. I was about 13 at the time. I’ll never forget that winter.  The snow and ice was thick on the ground.

I stopped to deliver logs to this woman.  When I brought in the logs to her house in Mountjoy Square, she kept me talking that long that when I came out of her house to go down the road, I couldn’t get the donkey to move.  I was pulling him by the head and he still would not move. I just couldn’t understand it. Then I discovered what was wrong – his feet were frozen to the ground! I had to chip away at the ice and snow to move him. I felt sorry for the donkey so I brought him around to my Uncle Barney who had a stable in Bath Lane, off Mountjoy Square.

I grew to love horses from the day my father bought me that donkey.  I was real proud going around with that donkey and cart selling logs because I was helping my father bring in some extra money for my mother.”


“My poor father, he drove a horse and cart around the city to earn a living.

God help him, he had to be up before daybreak as he had to go over to the south side of the Liffey where he had a stable, to get his horse and cart and go down the docks to work. He wore a coal sack across his shoulders in the wintertime and when it was raining, to try and keep the rain off his back, as he drove his horse around. We wouldn’t see him till very late in the evening.

When he was finished work, he had to bring the horse back over to the stable and put down clean hay and water for him. Some nights he would come in the door of the house, with the coal sack tied around his shoulders. Soaking wet to the bone.

He would go behind the line, which was a long rope going across the room with old blankets and coats thrown over it, to divide the room in two. That was my mother and father’s bedroom behind the line. We had an oil lamp on the mantelpiece with a mirror behind it, to send the light around the room. Me and my brothers slept the other side of the line, near the window.

My father would change his clothes and put the wet ones over the chair at the fire to dry them. He would sit down and my mother would hand him his tea, in what was known in Monto as “the tenement china, a jamjar”. He would sit there, drink his tea and watch his clothes dry and curse his bosses for keeping him out late working.

Coughing and Spitting

When he went to bed at night, we could hear him coughing and spitting all night long into the tin bucket, it was terrible. That tin bucket was also the toilet. We also had a bucket with a board on top of it, outside of the line.

It was too dark in the night time to go down to the back yard to the toilet. We used the bucket and the oil lamp was turned down low to give you some light, to see where you were going, in case you had to get up during the night to go to the toilet.

You were also afraid of the rats, which used to run around the back yard they also came up the stairs in the night time. The shit buckets had to be emptied and washed put the first thing in the morning.”

Turf man handcart
Man with child and horse

"Around Gardiner Street and Sean MacDermott Street in the 1940s, the men from around the neighbourhood would be playing cards at the corners because there was no work at that time. I could not get a job so I joined the British Army. A lot of men from around the neighbourhood joined up too. I left the army in 1947."


“Mrs Dunleavy delivered the babies of Monto, no matter who you were or what you were. If you were in trouble and she could help you out, she would do it. She brought lots of children from around Monto into the world.

She was called out of her bed all hours of the night, to deliver babies. I saw her running from different houses helping different women who were having babies and never looked to be paid a penny for it. She was the mid-wife of Monto and a great woman, many a child owes their life to her. There was two brothers along with myself and my mother and father in our family.”


“I worked for 26 years in St Laurence O’Toole School as a dinner lady. My mother worked there before me. I started in 1953 and left in 1979.”

One day down on the corridor, this young Christian Brother was talking to me when this boy came along.  He must have been only eight or nine years of age.

He says to me, “Miss Summers, I know where babies come from”.

I says to myself what am I going to do?  I felt so embarrassed for this young Brother who was only about 18 or 19 years of age.

Anyway the young fella asks: “Do you want one?”

“Get away before I brain you” says I. “No, I don’t want one. I have enough here”.

“If you want one, go up to the Rotunda (Hospital) – they have bucketsful of them up there. Anytime me Ma wants one she goes up there – she got one last night”

I looked up and said “Thank you, God” and it was only then the blood started to drain back into the Brother’s face. The kids can tell you everything now but in them days it was different.”


“I used to collect the cinders in a bucket and then put them into a bag.

When I got a bagful I would tie it up and put it on the pram and bring them home. I would do that every day after school. I used to make my picture money from collecting cinders. We used to charge two pennies a bucket. The people were glad to pay the two pennies a bucket for the cinders to heat up their houses. We also collected Guinness bottles in the Sloblands and brought them down to this woman who had a rag store in Elliott Place, off Railway Street. She would buy them off us for a penny a bottle. She’d wash them clean and then sell them back to the pubs for more money.”


Do you have family memorabilia or stories about life in the North Inner City? We’d love to hear from you: