VOICES FROM THE NORTH INNER CITY
Poverty was a hallmark of the North Inner City. Workers had to accept low pay, casual shifts and no job security. Despite the introduction of old age pensions for the over 70s (1908), labour exchanges (1909), and a national insurance scheme to protect workers against sickness and unemployment (1911), for many of the poor in this area, survival was a daily struggle.
People here lived in fear and dread of ending up in the South Dublin Union, a workhouse on James’s Street. So, they regularly used pawn shops where they would pawn even essential items of clothing. However, high repayment rates sent them into a further downward spiral of poverty. The kindness of others as well as charities were other options.
“I got my First Communion dress off St Vincent de Paul. My mother was very poor at the time but I thought she was rich because I had two Communion dresses after she got another one off the teacher in school.”
“We got involved in helping my father-in-law in the ‘Penny Dinners’.
When the poor people and the homeless would not have any money to buy their dinner, my father-in-law and some of the people from the flats would help them out. The people from Avondale House were great. They used to give the homeless any clothes they had. The ‘Penny Dinners’ service was run by the Jesuits in Gardiner Street.”
EVA KNOWD - BORN 1935, SEAN MACDERMOTT STREET
“Hunger was a very real part of our lives.
When all else failed, Ma brought us to the ‘Penny Dinners’. People talk about the good old days. There were a few good days, but many good friends and neighbours. It was the people that were good, not the circumstances.”
PADDY REID - BORN 1950, GLOUCESTER PLACE
"People used to go up to Gardiner Street and get the penny dinners but also to get a tin of stew for their families. I thought it was a very sensible type of service for people to be able to bring home the dinner to their children."
CLARA GILL - NORTH CIRCULAR ROAD
“St. Vincent de Paul would not give you any help if they knew you had a television set.
I had a rented slot TV (where you had to put two shillings into it). The night they were to call to see me, I put the slot television into the toilet to hide it. Anyway, they gave me a five shillings food voucher for Cuddy’s in Summerhill and left.
They were gone about five minutes when I took the television set from the toilet and put it back on the press when a knock came on the door.
When I opened it, who was standing there only the St. Vincent’s man – he said he forgot to give me a ticket for a bag of coal. I nearly died. The television was on, he looked at it and that was the last time I saw the St. Vincent de Paul.”
LILO SHEVLIN NÉE BURKE - CORPORATION BUILDINGS
“Times were hard then.
There was no free school lunches or anything like that. You had to bring your own with you. The nuns in the convent facing the school were good. They used to open up the soup kitchen for the school children who wanted to come over and have some soup and bread. Some children did go over but some families would not allow their children to go into a soup kitchen even if they were poor – it was a thing you did not do. My mother and father would not allow me to go into it, even though we were poor like the rest of them.”
CISSIE O’BRIEN - COMMON STREET
“Down in the basement of a tenement house on Buckingham Street was what we called the stew house
– where they gave out free meals to the children and to the local people who were in poor circumstances.
It had a name overhead with the letters CYMS (for the Catholic Young Men’s Society); we used to say that those letters stood for “Can Your Mother Make Stew?”