I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Industry out, tenements in


In 1909 Alderman Tom Kelly, a committed advocate on behalf of Dublin’s poor and for the economic development of the city published a series of articles on the streets of Dublin in Arthur Griffith’s newspaper. The extract following concerns the Francis Street area which suffered a remorseless decline through the nineteenth century:

’Tis now sixty years since the late Sir John Gilbert wrote in the “Irish Quarterly Review” a series of articles on the streets of Dublin, most of which were afterwards embodied in his great history. As we are all deeply interested in the well-being of the city because of its being the capital of the Irish Nation and once the seat of its Legislature and the centre of its intellectual and industrial activity, we are ardently anxious that progress and prosperity should mark the advance of time, but I am afraid that neither one nor the other can be traced in most of our streets for the past sixty years. The destruction of the Irish Parliament at the dawn of the nineteenth century was a reeling blow for Dublin, and every decade since has seen the wiping out of the local manufacturing industries. The city has become a centre of distribution of the foreigners productions, and by far the largest portion of our working population depend for meagre existence on casual labour. Let us see how some of the streets of Dublin from an industrial standpoint are now as compared with sixty years ago and see how marked the change is, at least in localities which are inhabited by the working classes. I have selected Francis street and the adjoining area as a beginning and hope the work will be at least interesting if not otherwise. St. Francis street is very old, dating from the 14th century, and so called from the Abbey of St. Francis founded in 1235. It was a busy street during the 18th century, especially during the last quarter, inhabited by prosperous merchants, manufacturers and traders, whose opulence became almost a byword in the city. Swift addressed his famous Drapiers Letters “from my shop in St. Francis Street,” and the proud Duchess of Rutland, wife of the English Viceroy, drove specially to the street to see a more handsome and stately woman than herself in the presence of Miss Dillon, the daughter of one of the Catholic merchants who lived in it. The various industries established in the neighbourhood fought a tough fight for existence. Many of them were in evidence and some flourishing fifty years ago. Today they are nearly all gone … Boot-making, brogue-marking, clay pipe-making, tobacco and snuff manufacture, the making of hair cloth and curled hair, tabinet and poplin weaving, hosiery and stocking weaving, velvet making, nail-making, soap-boiling, whip-making, and Sweetmans brewery; and there were as well large factories dealing in bran, butter, groceries and general provisions, as well as drapers, haberdashers, and tailors. Every house and shop was occupied and there was evidence of industrial activity on all sides. Let us go into the alleys and lane between Francis street and Meath street and see what small but nevertheless good wage-earning industries were carried on. In Marks Alley there was tabinet, velvet and poplin manufacture, dyeing, brass founding, a soda water factory, and bacon and hide factors. In Walls Lane were eight bacon and provision factors. In Garden Lane there were manufacturers of corn and provisions, a paper manufacturer and a bellows-maker. In Swift s Alley there were twelve houses, nine of which were occupied by carpenters and builders and timber merchants, a nailor and two factors of corn, etc. Spitalfields and Carman’s Hall were mostly occupied with butter and bacon factors, and one man named Dunne who carried on the business of poplin, tabinet, and silk dresser and waterer. In Ashe street we meet with silk and tabinet manufactures, toy and cabinet-making. In Flag Alley there were nailors, coopers, and a printing establishment; and in Meath street there was at least one hat manufacturer. Leaving Meath street we come into the Coombe, which is met with in the calendar of Dublin as early as 1454; and although fifty years ago its best days were over, still there were left some weavers, silk dyers, a large brush factory, pump-makers, and a few large merchants like John Parkes. In New Row and Blackpitts were several tanneries, leather dealers, parchment making, a pottery, rope and mat-making, a chemical yard, engineering works and Busby s distillery. Going through these streets and alleys today, as I have constantly done, there is little or no evidence to the eye that there are any of the industries left. I make enquiries and find that there are no tanneries left, no boot-making worth speaking about; one weaver is the sole survivor of that historic trade in his area, and one or two pipe-makers. Messrs. Taylor’s tobacco factory is still in Francis street, and Messrs. Parkes’ large distributing establishment is still in the Coombe, but I can find no evidence of the other manufacturers mentioned. I looked through last year’s Directory to see what it had to tell, and this is what I found:‑ In Francis street sixty of the houses are marked “tenements” and fourteen “ruins”; Mark’s Alley, mainly “tenements”; Swift’s Alley, “tenements”; Ashe street, all “tenements.” In Garden land and Spitalfields there are a couple of bacon factors mentioned, and the rest seem to be “tenements.” New Row and Blackpitts are nearly the same description save of couple of instances like Messrs. Kelly and Dunne’s skin and hide establishment. In the Directories of sixty and fifty years ago industries predominated this area ‑ today is it “tenements.”