Declining Dublin

The decay of the North Inner City

The Dublin that developed rapidly in the 18th century was dominated by a wealthy Protestant elite.

Even when the 17th century anti-Catholic legislation known as the Penal Laws were relaxed in the 1790s by a short-lived Irish Parliament, Protestant privilege was undisturbed. This Parliament was established on College Green in 1782 and ended when, in the aftermath of a rebellion by the republican revolutionary group, the United Irishmen, the British government moved to assert more direct control over Irish affairs. The result was the Act of Union of 1801 and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.


Georgian buildings that became tenements.

Buildings, Gloucester Place

Buildings, Gloucester Place.  © The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

The Liberator

With this legislative union, Dublin lost its parliament and much of its prestige and the ensuing century would see a steady erosion of Protestant power in the city.  Catholic Emancipation was granted in 1829 following a popular mass movement led by the so-called ‘Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell who, just a year before, laid the foundation stone for a new school at North Richmond Street, founded by Edmund Rice of the Christian Brothers religious order.  The occasion was accompanied by a procession of clergy and laity through the city’s streets, culminating on the North Circular Road where O’Connell, a barrister and MP, declared it:

"A day of great and proud triumph to the cause of liberality...In this seminary there would be perfect fair play for every class and creed."

The birth of Dublin’s tenements

The decades that followed were perhaps the most calamitous in Irish history. And while Dublin escaped the worst ravages of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-52, it was not unaffected: the diet of Dubliners was not so vulnerable to a failing potato crop, but the city struggled to adjust to the influx of rural refugees fleeing starvation and disease.

Although the population of Ireland plunged in the second half of the 19th century, that of Dublin continued to grow.  As it did, new suburbs were developed close to the city to where the wealthiest Dubliners began to move. With their departure, once prized streets and houses in the city centre, including Mountjoy Square and other parts of the north east inner city, fell into disrepair. They were reduced to overcrowded and insanitary tenements. So much so that the early 20th century over a third of Dublin’s population lived in slums regarded as the worst in the UK and where the infant mortality rate was the highest in Europe.

Dr. Jacinta Prunty on the Origins of Dublin’s Tenements. Courtesy of Century Ireland

Map of the 'Monto' area

Map of the ‘Monto’ area. The Montgomery Street it was named for is now called Foley Street.

The ‘Monto’

Amidst all the decay, there emerged one of Europe’s most infamous ‘red light’ districts, known as the ‘Monto’.  It was concentrated in the north east inner city, most notably around Tyrone Street, along which, Halliday Sutherland walked in 1904.  A medical student in Dublin at the time, he later observed that:

"In no other capital of Europe have I seen its equal. It was a street of Georgian houses and each one was a brothel. On the steps of every house women and girls dressed in everything from evening dress to a nightdress stood or sat."

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