VOICES FROM THE NORTH INNER CITY

Wives & Mothers


“After I got married, I never had any pals, you know. Up to the time he died, I never had any pals. Men demanded all your time. I couldn’t go outside the door without permission from him.”

MARY CORBALLY

“The women had it very hard in those days. They stayed in their rooms and looked after their children while the men went out to work or to look for work on the docks.

The women were trapped in those tenement rooms. If a woman was going to the shops for food, she had to bring all her children with her.

I remember a woman that lived at the top of our house and she had eight children. She used to run down the six flights of stairs with a baby in her arms. She would knock on the door of the bottom room and ask the woman to hold the baby while she ran back up the stairs and carried down her children one by one. Everywhere the women went they had to bring their children with them.”

MARY BYRNE - BORN 1920, WATERFORD STREET

“My mother used to scrub the clothes in a big tin bath on the table. She always had her sleeves rolled up.

She was a clean woman and old before her time, God help her, always scrubbing the floor and out on the lobby of the house. That was because people use to sleep on the lobbies in the night time and there would be a bit of a smell, after they had gone in the morning. If the people didn’t have the money for a lodging house, they had to sleep on the streets or on the lobbies.

My mother would open up the window and spend a few hours looking out, talking to the woman next door who would be looking out her window. The women always looked out their window, watching their children as they played skipping in the streets.

Once it got dark, you were called into the house, as the girls would be coming out of the houses to meet the men.”

ELIZABETH DILLON - BORN 1915, CORPORATION STREET

“When we wanted to wash our clothes, we had to go over to Tara Street wash-house.

We used to put all the washing into the baby’s pram and wheel it all the way over to the wash-house.  When you went inside, you were given a big tub to wash your clothes in and a big washing board.  All the women from around the neighbourhood would all be there doing their washing.  We had no washing machines in them days.”

CHRISTINA COLEMAN - BORN 1928, GRENVILLE STREET
Two women
Railway Street 1930s

“I got married at 16 and had my first baby at 17. I went on and on having babies till I had 21 children."

LILIAN OSBORNE

“My mother did her washing out in the back yard where the water tap was.

She had a big tin bath that she filled up and a big scrubbing board, which she would scrub the clothes on. When it was raining she took the tin bath into the hallway and did the washing there.”

ESTHER TEELING - BORN 1904, UXBRIDGE, OFF RAILWAY STREET

“In those days, women didn’t drink in the pub, they had a billy can.

You went down to the pub and got a glass of stout in the billy can.  The women used to gather in each other’s houses, and there’d be a fire and the big old fender.”

PADDY BEHAN

“Women were the backbone of the community, then, as now.

Life was hardest for women. Many got worn out and there were too many early deaths. We need to honour these people and not forget them.”

PADDY REID - BORN 1950, GLOUCESTER PLACE
Family in doorway
Tenement interior

"The men never minded children in those days; it was all left to the women. Nearly every woman I knew in those days had big families. "

MARY BYRNE - BORN 1920, WATERFORD STREET

“Some women were no one’s fools and they had a temper and once they lost it their husbands were done for.

I remember one woman from Foley Street, she hit her husband such a wallop with the clothes iron, he was lying on the footpath with the blood spilling out his head. He used to kill her when he came home drunk from the pub. He would beat her something terrible and smash up the place. He was one of those brave men with the drink on him and all their poor children looking at all this going on in the room but this night she had enough of his beatings.

She hid in the dark hallway on Foley Street and waited on him and as he turned to go into the hallway to go up the stairs. She was ready with the clothes iron and she let him have it right across the head. He went right out onto the roadway with the wallop she hit him with the iron. People came out of their houses to look. Her husband was stretched out cold on the ground and the blood spilling out of his head. He spent a while in hospital recovering.

He didn’t know what hit him but she had enough of being beaten every time he came home drunk. The men in Paddy Clare’s pub used to jeer him saying when he would be leaving the pub “Billy, you better get your steel helmet on you before you go home, she might be doing the ironing tonight.”

He never laid a hand on her again because he knew better. “

LILLY O’DONNELL - BORN 1920S, FOLEY STREET
Looking onto Foley Street with the ruins of Paddy Clare's pub to the right of photo. 1980s

Looking onto Foley Street with the ruins of Paddy Clare’s pub to the right of photo. 1980s


‘Dublin Tenement Life’  © Terry Fagan.

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