In the nineteenth century, most land in Ireland was owned by a small elite of – mostly – Protestant landlords. They would rent out their land to tenants or would have large estates cultivating land directly (the “Demesne”). Often it was a combination of the two. Some landlords would live on their estate, but others would not, leaving the management to middlemen. It was also not uncommon for landlords to own multiple estates. The Irish estates were an investment, run to provide a return for their owners. However, many estates had ceased to be profitable even before the famine of 1845 – 1849. The famine threatened their viability even further, as many tenants could no longer afford to pay rent. The famine afforded however also an economic opportunity, of which more later.
But let’s step back in time a bit further. Even before the famine, poverty was widespread in Ireland. It had 8 million inhabitants (today, 170 years later, the number is 6 million) and many Irish had to compete for work as landless labourers. Others would be tenants, but the growing population meant that many of their holdings had been subdivided into smaller and smaller plots of lands with each generation. For a lot of Irish people, the potato was their only source of food, as it was nutritious and cheap. Some would be able to afford bread and only a few meat. The “Board of Works” had been established in 1831 to deal with this poverty, by offering work to the unemployed on public works.
The famine was not caused because there was no food. As a matter of fact, Ireland still exported grain throughout the famine years of 1845-1849. The cause was a potato disease, called “blight”, making them inedible. The potato shortage also pushed the prices of other foods up. As a consequence, most simply could not afford any food anymore. Unfortunately, the “Board of Works” was completely overwhelmed, and by 1846 its failure was widely accepted.
An attempt at relief for the Irish poor was the purchase and sale of cheap grain. The budget was £100,000, or about £12 million in today’s money. To maximise the amount of grain, so-called “pigs-grain” (it was deemed only suitable as animal feed in India, where it came from) was bought. It required three times the amount of labour to turn it into usable flour, using heavy-duty utensils, as shown in the pictures below.
But Trevelyan, who was in charge of emergency food supplies in Ireland during the famine, advocated a policy of effectively withholding relief and allowing market forces to take their course. As the importing and selling of cheap grain by the government was deemed to be distorting the proper working of the free market, it was discontinued in 1847.
Private relief efforts did not fare much better. Best known of these efforts are the “Soup Kitchens”, where cheap soup was sold. However:
“Nicholas Soyer was a French Chef at the Reform Club during the famine. The soup he devised for the victims of the famine was pronounced excellent by members of high society who visited his Model Soup Kitchen in Dublin. However, it was widely attacked for its lack of real nutritional value. One meal of Soyer’s soup only provided one-tenth of the necessary daily intake of calories.”
National Famine Museum
The Quakers – who were heavily involved the running of soup kitchens – concluded in the end that without fundamental reform, their attempts were futile.
Which left the local Unions running Workhouses. They were also completely swamped by the famine. The authorities responded by increasing their number and expanding the existing ones. The problem was that they were financed by contributions made by landlords, based on the number of poor tenants they had.
This led to the next phase in the development of the famine. Landlords now had an incentive to get rid of their poor tenants, as well as an excuse (as the Unions were supposed to look after the evicted tenants).
Charles Trevelyan, Secretary of the Treasury, in The Times on 12 October 1847:
“.. the change from an idle barbarous isolated potato cultivation, to a corn cultivation, which enforces industry, binds together employer and employed in mutually beneficial relations, and, requiring capital and skill for its successful prosecution, suppose the existence of a class of yeomanry who have an interest in preserving the good order of society, is proceeding as fast as can reasonably be expected.”
As per the statement above, not only would the eviction of tenants reduce the taxes estates had to pay, but it also offered estates a much more profitably future: many estates were inefficient and badly managed before the famine, with many small sub-holdings. Switching to the growing of grain and the rearing of cattle on large farms was a much better economic proposition. And this required getting rid of the small plots and a lot fewer tenants.
Strokestown was an estate of about 11,000 acres and had its own village attached to it. It was owned by the Mahon family. Major Denis Mahon had inherited it in 1845, just when the famine started. The estate was not in a good position: a previous member of the family had run up debts by significantly enlarging the mansion. He was followed by his bother who was mad; and after that, there were 10 years of legal cases to determine who would inherit. For all of this time, it had been badly managed.
To rescue his estate, Major Denis needed to reform, which meant getting rid of his tenants. Like other estates, Strokestown did offer incentives to tenants to emigrate, including forgiveness of debt and payment of passage. About a thousand Strokestown residents would take up the offer. But the ships the estate chartered did justice to the name “coffin ships”, with over a third of their human cargo not surviving the trip.
And it was nowhere enough for the heavily indebted estate: by late 1847 Strokesdown had become a byword for mass evictions. Strictly speaking, the estate could only evict tenants from their land, not their house. But the landlord also controlled who would be registered for relief with the Unions. And the condition invariable was that the tenants would leave their house as well. Which would subsequently be demolished to prevent them from being re-occupied.
This obviously created tensions. Priests in the Catholic Church were often accused of inciting violence and disobedience, and the local priest in Strokestown was accused of having a role in what was to follow. Most priests would preach obedience to law though, so it is more than likely that a “secret society” of disgruntled locals was responsible for the shooting dead of the landlord of Strokestown: on 2 November 1847 the patriarch of the family, Major Dennis Mahon was assassinated. It is this event that made him famous, as he was the first landlord to be killed. Other assassinations would follow and soon almost every landlord would fear for their lives. Quite a few decided to leave Ireland.
The estate did survive, however. The last member of the Mahon family to live on the estate, Mrs. Olive Hales Pakenham Mahon, moved to a nursing home in England only in 1981, at the age of eighty-seven.
She had already sold the estate in 1979 to a group of local businessmen. They started a much-needed restoration; it was in a very bad state of repair as Olive Mahon had run out of money. A consequence of the latter is that a lot of the features and fabrics are original, as there never had been money for replacements. This did not include the paintings, as they had been sold off a long time ago to generate some income. But it does include a beautiful kitchen that is 200 years old. The gallery below gives you an impression.
The new owners did find a large collection of estate and family papers which formed the basis of the development of the National Famine Museum on the premises of the house. You can visit the museum, as well as the house and its walled garden. For more information, click here.
Luke Gardiner was a property developer in Dublin in the 18th Century. He developed large parts of Dublin City north of the river Liffey and became very wealthy in the process.
Probably his most upmarket development was Henrietta Street, laid out during the 1720s. This is a very short street, now known for The Honorable Society of King’s Inns building at the top. This is however of a later date, its foundation stone was laid “only” in 1800.
Henrietta Street was aimed at the very top of Irish society: nobility, senior clergy, top judges, and Luke Gardiner himself. Many of them would have seats in the Irish Parliament, either elected or through hereditary rights. For several of them this was their city house, as they also owned substantial mansions down the country.
The houses on Henrietta are very large Georgian buildings. Number 14, of which more below, measures 9,000 square feet over 4 floors and a basement. The basement would contain the kitchens and storage space, it is where the staff would toil. The ground floor would be the main living space for the family. The Piano Mobile or first floor would have several reception spaces for entertaining guests. The top two floors were bedrooms and nurseries.
The first family to live in the house was the family of Robert Molesworth, who was a powerful politician who was created a Viscount in 1715. He was followed by several other rich and powerful occupants, such as The Right Honorable John Bowes, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Lucius O’Brien, John Hotham Bishop of Clogher, and Charles 12th Viscount Dillon.
That all changed in 1801. In that year, England’s leaders decided to centralise power. They had become worried because of the French Revolution, which has led to unrest in Ireland as well. By convincing and bribing members of Parliament, they succeeded in getting the parliament to vote for its own abolition. Powers were transferred to the parliament in London.
Soon the rich and powerful left Henrietta Street. They were at first replaced by legal people, lawyers, solicitors, barristers, etc. This included Number 14. In 1850, it became a temporary courthouse at the end of the Great Famine, dealing with the affairs of the many bankrupt country estates: the Encumbered Estates’ Court.
When this was no longer needed it was for a while used by the English army as a barracks until 1876. Thomas Vance bought the property and turned it into a tenement, by stripping out all valuable decoration – such as marble fireplaces – and subdividing many of the rooms. Since the famine, many Irish had descended on Dublin and there was a desperate shortage of housing. Just after the turn of the nineteenth century, there were over 100 people living in 14 Henrietta Street. It was an “open door” building, which means the front door was never locked. During the night vagrants would come in and sleep in the corridors.
It had no running water; and only two toilets. It was heated by open fires, which were also used for cooking. Lighting was by means of candles and oil lamps. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that gas and electricity was introduced.
Bugs and vermin would also be a continuous problem. It was said that residents arriving in the dark, would kick the stairs to scare away the rats. Floorboards were in a bad state; in many places you could see through them to the floor above or below. In many rooms there were holes in the floor.
Still, 14 Henriette Street was an “A” class tenement. “B” class were worse and “C” class were often sheds or stables.
The famous strike known as the “Lock Out” early in the century was a failure. But it did bring the appalling living conditions of many Dubliners out in the open. Action was delayed because of World War I, the War of Independence, the Civil War, and the creation of the Irish State. Plans were finally made in the 1920s and construction of suburbs started in the thirties. These provided much improved and healthier living conditions, although not the same sense of community. When several tenements collapsed in the sixties, it gave a renewed impetus to the building of modern housing. Apart from more suburban developments, this was also the time that Ballymun was developed. As per above, it was not until the seventies though that the last tenements were closed.
Number 14 was allowed to decay. As part of the Henrietta Street Conservation Plan, the local council bought the house after 2000. It started a long renovation process and it opened to the public in 2018, telling the story we have related above. For more information click here.
Tenement living around 1900:
The below pictures give an impression of tenement living in the fifties:
Genealogists are not morbid, but many of us to have a fascination with cemeteries. There are plenty of interesting ones in Dublin, and this is a report on a very old one, which we visited a while back: Old Carrickbrennan Graveyard, Monkstown, Dublin. We believe it has an interesting story to tell!
According to Parish history, the history of Monkstown stretches back to Viking times. A monastery at Holmpatrick, Skerries was sacked by the Danes in 798 AD. Some monks fled and established a new monastery in what is now the old cemetery at Carrickbrennan in Monkstown. We don’t know however if this story is truth or fiction. There are ruins of an old church at the graveyard, but these are of later origin: a church dedicated to St. Mochanna was build here in 1668. It is said, however, that this church was built on the ruins of an older.
We are on a more firm footing when the area was granted to the Order of the Cistercians, who build Monkstown Castle around 1250 AD, just opposite the cemetery. This castle still exists, but only as a ruin. This picture is how it looks now.
Like all other church properties, during Henry VIII’s reformation, the abbey was confiscated and sold off in 1545. The new owner was Sir John Travers who is buried in the graveyard.
The 1668 church became too small and ruinous around 1777. (The remains are still there, see photo). Thus, a new church for the protestant Church of Ireland was built in Monkstown village, a short distance away from the castle and graveyard. Construction started in 1785. In 1861 a start was made with the construction of a new Catholic Church, dedicated to St. Patrick, also in the village.
The old graveyard at Carrickbrennen continued in use, however. In 1874 it was closed due to fears of cholera, but it was subsequently re-opened and burials took place until the middle of the last century.
As the cemetery ran out of space a long time ago, graves were put on top of other graves. That is why the ground level is much higher on the western side; a stream on the eastern side prevented the practice there!
Some remarkable people that are buried here are:
On 19 November 1807 the ‘Rochdale’ sank and 265 people perished. Many of the were buried in Carrickbrennan, as it was close to the sea.
Joseph Holt He was born of Protestant Cromwellian parents but nevertheless joined the United Irishmen. He became one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion in Wicklow and Wexford and was transported to Australia after he was captured. He was however allowed to return and died in Ireland in 1814.
During a huge storm in 1861, twelve ships were trying to make their way to shore in Kingstown as Dun Loaghaire was then known. Several of them got into trouble. Captain Boyd and his crew went out on the rescue vessel ‘Ajax‘ but all of them perished in the effort. The crew is buried at Carrickbrennan, but the captain was never found. Instead, a monument was erected.
One other thing of notice is the little guardhouse. This was necessary because in the 19th century many cemeteries suffered from the theft of corpses, which were sold to medical schools for examination! This was also the reason why some graves have railings surrounding them.
In the second half of the 20th century the graveyard fell into decay but in 1985 it was cleaned up. Now, the county council organises tours of the cemetery every summer.
The volunteers from ‘Ireland Genealogy Projects & Archives have transcribed 30 of the gravestones. These can be found here.
Sometimes only visiting the sites where your ancestors lived can give you that last bit of information. And provide the rich context of their lives. If you are not able to visit Ireland yourself, we can go and visit these sites for you and provide a report and especially pictures.
A site visit is divided in a number of focus areas:
First, if you know in which cemetery your ancestor(s) are buried, we will go and look for their grave. Gravestones are often very informative on the people buried and/or give other names to research. Provided we find the grave, we will provide you with a detailed transcription and photos of the grave and surroundings. It should be noted though that especially the poor often did not have a gravestone. In this case we will make photos of the cemetery.
A second area is the village or townland where your ancestor(s) lived. We will provide background information on the village or townland. Some buildings that were relevant to your ancestor(s) might still exist, such as a church they likely attended or a school where they learned to read or write (like the 1907 school in the picture below). If their house still stands, we of course include that. And we will take photos of all of these.
Then there is the history of the local area. We are members of a local history society and have been published in their magazines. We will include research into the local area your ancestor(s) lived to provide an overview of how it would have looked and what was happening there in the time of your ancestors. Below is a picture of Blackrock train station, one of the oldest surviving stations in the world. The coming of railways impacted hugely on where people lived and worked and how villages developed.
Finally, we will bring together all documentation and findings of our research in a professional report and provide you with digital files containing all photos we have taken.
Blackrock is nowadays a suburb of Dublin, but it once was a Town of its own. Up to about 1700, the area where it is located was just an empty bit of coastline, south of Dublin. Strangely, as it was then quite a distance away, it did belong to the City of Dublin. We know this because the Mayor of Dublin, together with his sheriffs, would every three years take a tour of the boundaries of the city. They would end up in modern Blackrock, where the Mayor would ride on his horse into the sea and throw a spear as far as he could: they would claim even the sea, up to where the spear would land. The oldest artifact found in Blackrock is this cross, estimated to be from the 12th Century. Although by no means certain, one theory is that it was a boundary marker.
Just south of Blackrock used to be a castle, which was owned by the Byrne family. No trace of it remains, and even its exact location is uncertain. Around this castle, a little village sprung up. This village was originally called Newtown. The problem with this name was that there were many places in Ireland with this name. To distinguish it, it was therefore also called “Newtown Castle Byrne” or “Newtown at the Black Rock.”. It is the latter name in abbreviated form that survived.
The Black Rock in question was a large limestone. Blackrock is at a geological border. North of it, towards Dublin, the ground is made up of gravel on top of limestone. South of it, it is mostly granite. The limestone, over thousands of years, has eroded away and created the plains on which the City of Dublin sits. The granite is much harder, and has eroded much less. This is why we have the mountains of Wicklow and the beautiful cliffs at Killiney. Blackrock is also mostly on granite, and would therefore be higher above sea level than Dublin. But as it was at the spot where the limestone and granite met, a large piece of limestone sat in between the granite. This limestone, when wet, would be black and would be clearly visible against the light grey and brown of granite and thus form a natural marker. Hence the name. You can see the difference in the picture below (ignore the brick, they are from a later repair of this old wall).
Dark Grey Limestone, Light Grey and Brown Granite
From about 1700, bathing in the sea became popular as a leisure activity. As the Liffey and Dublin Bay nearer to the City of Dublin were heavily polluted (sewerage treatment plants did not exist yet), people traveled a bit further away. Blackrock, with its cleaner water and attractive views from its elevated position fitted the bill. It became one of the first seaside resorts.
At first it would mainly attract day trippers. Then, some entrepreneurial people built houses and started renting them out to holiday makers. The very rich would built their own homes. These were often very grand affairs. The grandest of them all was Frescati House, owned by the Duke of Leinster. It was their third house, as they would also own Carton House in Co. Kildare, their main seat where they would spend the summer) and a Town House in Dublin, where they would spend the winter, attending balls and other social occasions. The latter is now home the Irish Dial and Seanad (lower and upper chambers of parliament). Frescati House was built in 1739 for the family of John Hely Hutchinson, the Provost of Trinity College, but was sold in the 1750’s to the aforementioned Duke of Leinster. Unfortunately it was demolished in the 1980’s, being in a very bad state. Although of a later date, the 1850 Newtown House gives an idea of the splendor of Blackrock’s residences:
Later in the 18th Century, “promenading” became very popular. This meant walking in a beautifully maintained area, for which an entry fee had to be paid. This way, only people of “status” would get access, and the rich would have a chance to see and be seen by the others of their class. One such promenading area was also built in Blackrock, with the name “Vauxhall Gardens”. It was not a commercial success, and later became a private residence until in 1873 the Town Council (of which later more) purchased it and turned it into a park. The park was bigger than the original Vauxhall Gardens: when a railway between Dublin and Dun Laoghaire was constructed (see below), in Blackrock, it sat on top of a man made embankment in the sea, thus creating a “lagoon” type area. This was soon used as the local rubbish dump. When the park was developed, the area has been almost completely filled and it was decided to grass it over and add it to the park. The park itself was a Victorian affair complete with bandstand. Bands were then very popular, with most organisations (including large companies) having their own bands.
The railway (Dublin & Kingstown Railway) is also worth mentioning: it was the first railway in Ireland, constructed in 1834. In the world, only the Manchester to Liverpool railway is older (1830). The railway connected Dublin to Dun Loaghaire, which was then called Kingstown. There was only one stop in between: Blackrock. The Dublin station – orignally Westland Row, but now called Pearse Station – has been redeveloped in 1981. As the heart of Dun Loaghaire moved over time – as a result of the harbour – it too got a new station. That leaves the Blackrock station as the only original station. It is still in use today. It was designed by a local architect, Mulvaney, and you can see his trademark in it: the recessed doorway with the Ionic columns.
The railway did cause some problems though as it separated the town from the sea, and bathing was still popular. The railway company therefore provided footbridges and bathing areas (men and women separated, as bathing costumes did not exist yet). These were very basic affairs, just a platform and a wall that protected the bathers from wind and their modesty. See the picture below to the left. Towards the end of the 19th Century a private entrepreneur constructed new sea baths, which had changing areas, diving boards, etc. It was purchased in the 1920’s by the government for their “Celtic Games”, essentially a form of Olympic Games for the Celtic Nations. Seating for 1150 people was added. The baths closed in 1987, as a result of cutbacks necessitated by the economic crisis of that decade. In the picture below to the right you can see what is left of it.
The town was at this stage already booming, and no doubt the railway helped to sustain its growth. Due to a previous reorganization, Blackrock was no longer part of the City of Dublin but of County Dublin. Towns like Blackrock could ask the government to be officially incorporated as Town Councils, by petition. The citizens of Blackrock decided to do so in the 1860’s. This was mainly because people started to demand more of the government: they wanted paved streets and pavements, street lighting, fire stations, etc. It was the role of the Town Council to ensure Blackrock would get these amenities. And as we already saw, they added a Town Park in 1873. To house the administration a City Hall was built, which was extended when the Blackrock Council was made responsible for its rural hinterland (stretching all the way to Stillorgan) as well. In this period we also see the construction of the Catholic St. John the Baptist church (1842-1845) as well as continued building of residential houses, such as Idrone Terrace.
In the 1870’s Dublin is getting its first trams. These only covered small distances, as they were originally horse drawn. Most companies would operate only one line. To get from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire you need to take three different trams. In the picture below, you can see the sheds in which the original trams were kept (until recently the were in use as a car dealership, they are now vacant). The tram companies would be amalgamated in the 1890’s by William Murphy (of 1913 Lockout fame) in his Dublin United Tramways Company. He would also start a program of electrification. The tramway from Dublin via Blackrock to Dun Loaghaire and further to Dalkey was the first to to electric. It was also the last line to be closed down in 1949, when trams were replaced by buses.
Before that, in 1930, there was also an amalgamation of local councils. One victim of this was Blackrock, which became part of Dun Laoghaire. The local council is now – after several further reorganizations – called Dun Loaghaire County Council. The Blackrock City Hall has been turned into a Library.
Blackrock still has its own identify however, and although no longer a seaside resort, its Main Street with its many shops is still worth a visit.
We hope you enjoyed the story of Blackrock. Why not have a look at the rest of our website?
This blog contains a large photo gallery of Deansgrange Cemetery. Please give it a moment to load!
Deansgrange Cemetery is located in the local council area of Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, a suburb of Dublin. It is open to the public. The cemetery is, together with Glasnevin, one of the largest in the Dublin area, occupying 65 acres. (So if you want to visit a particular grave, you should find out first where it is!). First burial was Anastasia Carey, 41 years, Servant St. Joseph’s Orphanage, 27th January 1865.
Hover over the pictures below to see the title; click on them to see a larger picture and its story.
Disclaimer: Most of the stories in this gallery are from gravedigger “John”, who told them to us during a “Dun Loaghaire Heritage Tour” of the Deansgrange Cemetery. They come from relatives who visited the graves and some have been told from colleague to colleague and even generation to generation and might therefore not be accurate. They are certainly very entertaining. Thanks for the stories, John.
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In 1834 a railway line was built connecting Dublin with Dun Laoghaire. People started moving out and the latter grew into a town. Among the newcomers were also Quakers. They soon built a meeting house in Monkstown and started looking for land for a Quaker Burial Ground. It would take 25 years until they found a suitable plot. They paid £1,000 pound for it and Temple Hill was established. The first burial took place on the 6th of the 3rd month in 1860.
The Quaker community has always been quite small in Ireland. Even today there are only 1,500 Quakers in the whole or Ireland. It would take until 1923 for the first register to be full after 954 interments. The second one is still going.
Quaker burial grounds are quite different from the Catholic ones Below you can see some photos. If you click on the picture you can see a larger image an explanation.
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