VOICES FROM THE NORTH INNER CITY
Burying the Dead
“During 1942-1943, there was an epidemic of gastro-enteritis among small infants for which there was no known cure. It was quite a common thing to see little white coffins going every day to the Angels Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.”
LILLO MCMULLEN NEÉ MORGAN - BORN 1919, HILL STREET
“My granny talked a lot about ‘the poorhouse’ or ‘the Union’, as she called it. “That’s a dreadful place to end up in”, she would say.
She talked about how she had seen the old people make their way up there to die in loneliness, never to see their families again. God help her, she used to live in fear of that place.
When somebody died around Monto some of the neighbours would go around the houses collecting money in a brown sugar bag to help bury the person that had died. The neighbours did not like to see anyone from the neighbourhood get buried in a pauper’s grave. You see, not many people had insurance policies in those days.
If you had no money to bury your dead they were taken out of the house by the authorities and buried in an unmarked grave. My granny used to say to me, “No brown sugar bag will ever go around for me, grand-daughter. I will pay for my own funeral.”
MARY FORAN - BORN 1924, RAILWAY STREET
“The Union Hospital was a dreadful place. I remember some of the people from the neighbourhood who were sick and were sent to that hospital and died there.
Well, the people from the area would go to the hospital and carry the coffin all the way back home to have a wake in the house. The Union was mostly for paupers. If you went to visit anyone you would see the poor men begging outside. They would say to you, “Mister, have you a smoke or a few pennies?” It was a hard life for the poor men, indeed for everyone.
You lived in fear if you took sick and were sent to that hospital – you knew you would not be coming out of it.”
BILLY DUNLEAVY - BORN 1907, CORPORATION BUILDINGS
“I remember the time when a friend of mine, Kathleen Dempsey, her granny was after dying. She was 101 years old when she died.
I was at her wake. There were a lot of people there. The granny was laid out in the bed. There were big white sheets on the walls with a black crucifix in the middle of them. At the end of the bed there was a little table with a bowl of holy water with a piece of palm in it to bless the corpse with, and a saucer of snuff.
When somebody would come in they would sprinkle the holy water on the corpse, take a pinch of snuff and sit down and have a drink. And when we got hungry at the wake we would go down to Monto. There was a place called Holmes’s, in Railway Street, not far from where the madam, Becky Cooper, lived. Mr Holmes sold pigs’ feet and mushy peas. We would buy some and bring them back to the wake and eat them there.”
ESTHER TEELING - BORN 1904, UXBRIDGE, OFF RAILWAY STREET
"People were lucky if they had a relation belonging to them to bury their child in a grave they owned. There was a fella who used to go around delivering coal on a horse and dray and anyone who wanted their little child buried, they could put the little coffin on it. There would be someone holding onto the little coffin because it would be rough going along the street."
BRIDIE KELLY - BORN 1929, DOMINICK STREET
“The wakes in Monto were great. I remember this old woman by the name of old Maisie.
She used to smoke a clay pipe. Well this night when the wake was in full swing, Maisie took out her clay pipe but she had no tobacco for it.
“Has anyone got a bit tobacco they will give me?” she asked. This man, who was always playing tricks on people, said to Maisie, “Give me your pipe and I’ll make you up some tobacco.”
So Maisie gave him her pipe and he went over to where the fireplace was. He put a pinch of turf mould in her pipe. Then he broke up some matches and put them in. Then he put a few drops of paraffin oil in also. Then he put another pinch of turf mould on top, and he pressed it down tight.
Smiling, he then turned around to old Maisie, who was sitting on an orange box. “Here you are Maisie, you’ll enjoy that smoke.” She put the clay pipe in her mouth. We were all staring at her. When she lit it up there was a big flash from the pipe!
Poor Maisie went over the orange box and landed on the floor with the smouldering clay pipe still in her mouth. Everyone started falling around the place laughing at her, but we eventually picked her up and gave her another bottle of stout to settle her nerves.”