Memories of an Irish Family Living in Tenement Rooms in Dublin Ireland
Dora and Patrick Maguire 1870 - 1960
These are the memories of my grandmother who was born in 1909 in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. She explains how her parents lived through the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence in 1921. How as an ordinary family living in Tenement rooms in Dublin they got on with raising their family as best they could.
This is their story
Dora Lee was born in Balbriggan in 1877 and brought up with her sisters, Tiny, Nanny, Cissy and a brother, William. She met a local lad, Patrick Maguire who was a herdsman.
They got married and moved up to Dublin in 1907. First to one room in a tenement house at 7 Blackhall Street in Stoneybatter. Their first child, Bridget, (Birdie) was born there in 1909. They then moved across the road to another room in a less crowded tenement house at 98 North King Street, Stoneybatter.
The Buildings - Stoneybatter
In 1912 they moved to a two bedroom house in Kirwan Street in Stoneybatter. These were newly built terraced houses that had been built in the area by the Artisan Dwellings Company.
They were built to house artisans who were tradesmen in affordable housing and get them out of the tenement slums. Paddy was a Baker at Kennedy’s Bakery earning £2 and 10 shillings a week so he qualified.
Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 in 1916
In 1914 they moved again this time around the corner to Kirwan Street Cottages. Birdie explains why, ‘This was because I had a baby brother by then and one day I thought it would be fun to see him go down the stairs while he was still strapped into his pram. So I let him go, pram and all. He was all right, but my mother got frightened and so we got a transfer to the cottage.’ The cottage only had one large room and one bedroom, with a small scullery at the back.
Memories of The 1916 Easter Rising
During the week of the Easter Rising in 1916 Dora and Paddy could hear the fighting all around them. They were only up the road from where some of the heaviest fighting between the Irish and British soldiers was going on in North King Street. They decided they were not safe there in Stoneybatter. Dora and her two children went to Balbriggan to stay with her mother. She was heavily pregnant with her third child Brian.
Playing out in Kirwan Street
Dora and Patrick's daughter, my Grandmother Birdie recalled, ‘The day the 1916 Rising started everyone was at the end of Kirwan Street. We could hear all the shooting in North King Street. I was only six and my brother Paddy was two.
The thing that sticks in my mind was my father. I was playing in the street when it started. He shouted at me to go inside the house. We then got ready to get the train to my mother's family in Balbriggan.
Passing the Barricades
We walked up to the North Circular Road and they had barricades up there. My mother was pregnant with Brian then so she had a hard time getting through the barricade. The lads there had to help her. I remember how the train was too, we were all packed into it, and people were on top of one another.
It was really seeing my father frightened that makes it stick in my mind; he told us afterwards that we got the last train out. We stayed in Balbriggan for the week. My Uncle Willy from Balbriggan was up in Dublin fighting in the Rising too.’
The End of The 1916 Easter Rising
After a week of fighting the 1916 Rising in Ireland was over. The GPO in Sackville Street, now O'Connell Street in Dublin was in ruins, only the shell of the building remained. Most of Dublin City had been shelled by the British Warship and also stood in ruins.
Surrendered to the British Soldiers
Over the next few weeks thousands of the men and women who had fought for Irish Freedom in the Easter Rising had been sent to prisons and Internment camps in England and Wales. Fourteen of the Irish soldiers including all seven of the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic had been executed in Kilmainham Jail and all their bodies thrown into a mass pit at Arbour Hill Prison.
The People of Stoneybatter and Dublin continued Living an Ordinary Life as much as possible. Because of the executions of the Irish soldiers after the Rising the people of Ireland became more active in fighting to secure freedom from British Rule.
With the release of all of the Irish prisoners from England and Wales by December 1916 plans were once again activated to continue the fight for freedom. By 1920 the Irish people were winning the War of Independence and the British Government sent in more troops.
Stoneybatter During The Irish War of Independence
Dora, Patrick and their three children were still living at Kirwan St Cottages in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 in 1921. Dora bought a Singer Sewing machine in order to supplement the family income. It cost £11 from the Singer Sewing Machine Co Ltd, at 4 Henry Street, Dublin on 7th June 1921.
The Black and Tans
Even though this was during the worst fighting of the War of Independence ordinary life had to carry on. The Stoneybatter area of Dublin was suffering the tyranny of the Black and Tans worse than most because it had the British barracks were they were stationed just up the road in McKee barracks. But just like the rest of the country ordinary life had to go on too and families had to be clothed and fed.
Irish Civil War
After Ireland became a Free State a bitter civil war broke out between those Irish soldiers who agreed with the Treaty and those who wanted to fight on. The Free Staters won the Irish Civil War and Ireland was finally free from war after 700 years of British Occupation.
So the people of Ireland carried on living and working as best they could. Many Dublin people still lived in severe poverty and endured bad housing conditions in the city. But they found work where they could or created it like Dora did.
Harold Road In Stoneybatter Dublin 7
By 1925 Dora’s children were getting older so the family moved again this time to Harold Road, still in the Buildings, Stoneybatter Dublin 7. This was a bigger house with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a scullery. Neighbours would collect old flour bags from the shops and Dora would make them into sheets.
Once the neighbour got them back they had to hand wash them many times to get the name of the company out of the material. Dora’s daughter, Birdie says, ‘I remember standing beside my mother who was working on the machine, me wanting to get out.
I was sixteen then and always wanted to go out with my friend, Maisie Comfort. She'd keep saying, “You’re not going out tonight, no you're not." I'd be worn out standing there at the machine, begging to get out.
I can still see her now.
“You’re not going out," she'd say and she'd still be working the machine all the time, with a cigarette in her mouth. I would eventually wear her down and I’d be let out. I wouldn't mind but Maisie never had any trouble getting out, she could do what she wanted. We'd go to the dancing up in a big house belonging to the Camptons. It was there in Benburb Street. All we did was dance, nothing else. Then Maisie and me would walk home together, she lived in Kirwan Street.
A Well Known Seamstress
By the 1930s Paddy Maguire had lost his job at the Bakery due to illness. Dora Maguire became well known in Stoneybatter and the Buildings as a seamstress. Her family remember her as always sitting at the sewing machine where she would make clothes for the neighbours.
They would bring in large suits belonging to the father of the house and Dora would then make a smaller suit for the young boys as Sunday best or for their confirmation.
Even in those days of poverty it was a terrible thing to be out on the streets on a Sunday if you did not have good clothes. A lot of people who grew up in those days will remember having to stay in all day Sunday because they had nothing decent to wear.
Artisan Dwelling Company in Stoneybatter
Dora Maguire was an expert at cutting down clothes to make them into fine suits and coats for the younger members of a poor family. All the houses that were built by the Artisan Dwelling Company in Stoneybatter became known as the Buildings.
The local children in the tenement houses were fascinated by what was going on and were always up there playing. Their mothers would ‘kill them for being up near the buildings’ as it was so dangerous. The name stuck and even today in 2018 they are still known as the Buildings in Stoneybatter
The Maguire Family in the Buildings
Times were still hard for families in Dublin during the 1930s and during World War Two, known as the Emergency in Ireland. Dora's daughter, Bridget also lived in a cottage in the Buildings by now and was married with four small children of here own. She recalled, 'When I married Leo and had the four children things were hard, there wasn't much money about.
My mother's family in Balbriggan were well off. Aunt Tiny owned a grocery shop beside Drogheda Street and my other aunt, aunt Cissy owned a grocery shop in Drogheda Street too. Her son was an accountant and he would play tennis at the club there. He was always buying new trousers for his tennis uniform.
The old ones would be sent down to my mother and she'd make white and grey trousers to fit my two boys. They'd also get the silk shirts cut down and made to fit. My daughters would have the kilt skirts made for them.’
Bridget's son and Dora's grandson Peter recalls an incident with his Granny Maguire in 1944. ‘One night I had a row with my father and I left the house and slept in a field in Blackhorse Lane. I was a right eejit, I was freezing.
The next day I went to the corner and spent the day with the lads playing cards. My about six o'clock I was getting hungry so I went to my granny's in Harold Road. She was always sewing but she jumped up and got me something to eat.
My Granny knew there was something wrong so I told her. She gave me my tea and when she had it ready she put her coat on and went off. When she came back I'd finished my tea, she told me to go home and it would be all right.
Then I realised she'd been down to the house in Sitric Road. I only heard the next day she'd come up and nearly bet my father around the place for letting me stay out all night. It wasn't his fault; I can't remember what we'd been arguing about really.’
The Sewing Machine Under the Window
Deirdre lived with her grandparents Dora and Patrick Maguire in the early 1950s. She remembers, “The machine was always under the window, I suppose it was because there was plenty of light there. When Granny got the old overcoats she’d first turn them inside out and then unpick them.
And she always made sure that each piece she made was pressed before she handed it over. I can still see the gas iron. There would be smoke coming from it as she pushed it over the suits. And having a gas iron was a step up from having the ones that had to be heated on the open fire. Oh when I think of it now.
Cigarette in her Mouth
She never inhaled it; it would sit there on the corner of her mouth just burning away. The whole ash would stay on the butt until it reached the end, I don’t know how she managed it. And when it did drop off it never went near the clothes she was working on.
She taught me how to sew on the machine but I always preferred to hand sew. I did the hems of the garments for her. When I was a teenager with my cousins Maureen and Pauline, we’d go into town to buy material. We’d explain to granny what type of style of dress we wanted and she would be able to draw the pattern onto newspapers out of her head. We had beautiful summer dresses made that way.’
Dora and Paddy Maguire
Her daughter Bridget remembered, ‘I can still see the machine in the room now, she had it out until she died. My father had died of a brain haemorrhage in 1955, the day after St Stephens's day. Five years later my mother fell in the scullery and broke her hip. She died from it about six weeks later.'
What Happened to Dora's Sewing Machine?
The Singer sewing machine was put under the stairs in the house in Harold Rd. It was still there until 2008 when Dora’s granddaughter Deirdre sold the house. Dora’s great great granddaughter Teresa used the desk of the sewing machine in her house where it is kept safe along with the memories of Dora Maguire.
Teresa used the beautiful table as a computer desk in her sitting room for a few years. Her sister Kathleen has now taken the table to her house and uses a modern Singer sewing machine on it. Teresa still lives in the Buildings in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 in 2018. Her sons, Quinn and Reid are now the 6th generation of the Maguire Family.
There were many families in Stoneybatter and all over Dublin who experienced the fighting and turmoil of Irish independence as they fought and won freedom British rule. Dora and Patrick Maguire were part of just one of so many ordinary Dublin families living in extraordinary times during the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence in Ireland.