Published in Dublin Historical Record, Vol. V, 1942-43 pp. 15-40
BY ROBERT GAHAN
“The Most Charitable City In The World”, is an expression often heard applied to the City of Dublin and certainly the expression appears to be deserved, for on all sides charities abound for the needs of the truly deserving. As a subject for this paper I have chosen what I believe to be the oldest form of charity, the alms-houses; the subject is of sufficient interest to merit its being regarded as a “bit of Old Dublin,” for these old houses (known by various names, Hospital, Refuge, Charity House, Alms House, Widows’ House, etc.) form a link with the Dublin of old in relation to the care of the poor, the aged, and the infirm. That these alms-houses have survived the passing of centuries is a tribute to the generosity of the many benefactors who endowed them sufficiently well to enable them to overcome the change in money values with the passing years; of course all the alms-houses were not endowed, or were so insufficiently as to be dependent on other sources of income, charity-sermons, etc.; in most cases such houses are, or were, what might be termed Parochial Alms-houses and a charge on the parishes in which they were situate. I have endeavoured to include in this short paper a number of well-known alms-houses, as well as some more lowly ones and beg to be excused if I have omitted some of the most interesting.
A number of these old charitable institutions are described in Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh’s History of Dublin, 1818 (WW&W), and I have derived a lot of my information about the original foundation of the alms-houses from that book, and have received much help from several of the persons in charge and trustees of these institutions; it is noteworthy that so many alms-houses and other charities existing in 1818 are still with us and still carrying on their excellent work in the cause of the aged and distressed.
THE KING’S HOSPITAL, or FREE SCHOOL OF KING CHARLES THE SECOND, 1670.
This is one of the oldest of Dublin’s alms- houses and certainly one of the best organised ; the original building dated back to the year 1670, when it was erected by the bounty of the Corporation of the City of Dublin, in Queen Street, at the south-eastern angle of Oxmantown Green, but since rebuilt about the centre of the same spacious area. Originally it was intended to receive and support the aged and infirm of the City, is well as the children of such poor, to whom an appropriate education was to be given; but owing to the decline in donations the Governors were compelled to revise their intention, and so from 1680 the charity was confined to the sons and grandsons of decayed citizens. The Charter granted by Charles II gives a long account of the reasons for establishing the School, speaking of the charity felt by some citizens of Dublin for “such as through Age, Sickness, or other Accidents, are reduced to Poverty”; and also of the benefit of “the Good Education and Instruction of youth.” The Charter granted to the ” “Mayor, Sheriffs, Commons, and Citizens of Our City of Dublin” a piece of land on Oxmantown Green, near Dublin, on which the Hospital had already begun to be built, to be held free of rent for ever. The Corporation were to maintain the said house as “a Mansion House, and Place of Abode for the Sustentation and Relief of poor Children, aged and impotent People,” and there was to be appointed “an able, learned, pious and orthodox Minister . . . to read Divine Service and preach and teach the word of God . . .and catechize such Children as shall be in the said Hospital or Free School,” which was to be called “The Hospital and Free-School of King Charles the Second.” The Charter laid down very definite rules and laws for the Governors of the School and so the institution was got into working order in the new building on Oxmantown Green. The school presented an uninteresting and irregular appearance, but it was spacious and convenient, and had room to spare, for in it the Irish Parliament sat frequently in the early eighteenth century, before the erection of the noble edifice in College Green. On the hospital becoming decayed and ruinous, it was decided to rebuild it on the present site, where the first stone was laid on the 16th June, 1773, by the Earl of Harcourt, then Lord Lieutenant. To describe it is outside the purpose of this piper, but may be said that the present building is one that we all may feel proud of, in as much as it adds to what Dublin is famous for, the finest buildings in the world.
In the history of the Dublin Guilds, the tradition of the Guilds’ activity in the cause of charity was carried on by the Guild Merchant in the seventeenth century, for at the mid-summer assembly in the year 1668 a petition was presented by certain of the brethren, that a grant should be made, “Lest so pious a work as the building of the Alms-house now in hands should be discontinued for want of the necessary supply of money for erecting the fabrick thereof.” It was ordered by the Assembly that the fines of Freemen, admitted that day, should be bestowed towards the building of the Hospital. (It was in 1669 that a committee was appointed by the Common Council of the City of Dublin, to take steps for the erection of a hospital for “the poore and aged, as well men as women, and the fatherless and motherless children that have not freinds nor estates to live uppon.”) At an Assembly held on the 12th April, 1675, it was ordered by the Masters, Wardens, and Brethren of the Guild “that four poor boys be placed in the New Hospital on the account of the Guild, and that £3 he given with each boy towards his present maintenance and education.”
And so we leave the Hospital and Free School of King Charles the Second, commonly called the “Bluecoat School,” believing that the coats worn by the persons who first entered within its doors were not blue, but ragged.
ST. MICHAN’S ALMS-HOUSE FOR POOR WIDOWS, FOUNDED 1720.
The alms-house of St. Michan’s is to be found in the churchyard, a quaint little house showing the traces of the numerous years of its existence; on the face of this small house are two inscribed tablets, and by going to a little trouble, such as climbing a ladder, as I have done, the following inscription can be read on the first : “This house was built and endowed by Edward Riley, Esq. for the support of 4 poor widows, the ground thereof bestowed for that purpose by the Rev. Dean Clayton, Prebendary of Christ Church, administerer of the Parish of St. Michans, A.D. 1720.”
On the second tablet are the words: “This almshouse was rebuilt, A.D. 1833, by Rev. John Rowley, LL.D., Rector; William North, and John Murphy, Esquires, Churchwardens.”
Inside the alms-house is a large notice-board, secured to the wall, on which the names of the occupants were inscribed ; it is a tribute to the passing of time that no names are now visible, the paint having peeled off. There is only one widow in occupation now, and the rules have been relaxed in order that a relative may reside to care for this lone occupant of one of Dublin’s oldest alms-houses.
ST. MARY’S ALMS HOUSE, PARNELL ST., 1724
This is one of the alms-houses which I find of interest when passing on a summer day, for then the steps leading up to the door provide seating accommodation for a number of old-age pensioners, of the male sex, who pass the time smoking, and discussing the problems of life in general: they are, apparently, never disturbed from their restful positions by the passing in and out of the inmates and it may be said that this alms-house “of life, gives no sign” yet, in fact, it is a very well-ordered establishment, having as its object the care of widows of householders of St. Mary’s Parish. Formerly it also cared for children in addition to widows, but this was considered unsatisfactory and part of the endowment was set aside that the children might be cared for in a school. The widows are provided with a room, fuel, lighting, and bread, and in cases where the widows have no means, a weekly cash allowance is made, so that the lot of the inmates is made as easy as possible. That the house was not quite so comfortable a little over a century ago may be considered from the following report, published in 1818, in WW &W
“This edifice, 60 feet by 36 in the clear, is substantially built of stone, the quoins, jambs of windows, etc., being of hewn mountain granite. It consists of three stories exclusive of the basement, which is below the level of the street, and has a spacious area in front and rere. The apartments, eight in number on each floor, open off a gallery six feet wide, and running the entire length of the building; and this is crossed in the centre by another, about eight feet wide, one end of which is occupied by the staircase; the other forms the hall. The apartments, thirty-two in number, are fourteen feet by twelve each, furnished with a fireplace, and lighted by a single window; but those on the upper floor alone are ceiled ; in the rest the naked joists are exposed to view, and form receptacles for cobwebs, and have an unpleasing effect. In the front area is a pipe and cock affording a plentiful supply of water, and at the rere is a spacious yard, above 60 feet square.”
“The number of widows at present in the house are 32, each occupying a room, and receiving from the endowment two guineas per annum, which is paid at Christmas; and one of their number who acts as housekeeper, has an additional gratuity of four guineas per annum, with a guinea for coals.”
“The intentions of the founder of this charity were certainly laudable, in a city where the most wretched room, in the most wretched situation, rents from one to two shillings per week. A comfortable apartment with even the small pittance of two guineas per annum, must, to a poor widow, be an object of some importance. The building is in an airy situation, seems to have been well-planned, and is executed in that style of plainness and solidity most suitable to its destination, but the benevolent views of the founder are in a great measure frustrated by a degree of neglect distressing to humanity; instead of that cheerful neatness and cleanliness so grateful to the eye of the spectator in the habitations of the poor, it is here disgusted with walls embroidered with dirt and smoke, windows from filth scarce pervious to the light, and by a ruinous ceiling, threatening destruction to the inhabitants, of which some fragments have already fallen. The roof has lately been repaired, but the timber work of the building not having been painted, as we were informed, since 1797, is rapidly hastening to decay; and we must add, that the window which originally lighted the lower gallery having been accidentally broken, has been injudiciously built up, so that the wretched inhabitants of this floor are necessitated to grope their way to their apartments through darkness visible.”
“As the widows on this foundation receive nothing but the bare room with two guineas (as before stated) at Christmas, their bedding and furniture is of course their own, and the interior appearance of their apartments might be supposed to be proportioned to their respective means, but here a general character of gloom and dirt pervades every room, from which even the apartment of the housekeeper is not wholly exempt, though used occasionally as a board room by the governors.”
But time has, it appears, made many changes for the better in this old alms-house, as may be seen by referring to Mrs. A. M. Fraser’s paper on Joseph Damer, whose money went to found it (see the RECORD, VOI. iii, P. 49) ; we may, therefore, be thankful that the better management of our modern days is making life pleasant for the inhabitants of the alms-house in question, who are assured of case and comfort in their declining years through the charitable bequest of the old Dublin banker.
MERCER’S HOSPITAL AND ALMS-HOUSE, 1734.
From time to time some of the surgeons of Dublin had attempted to establish a hospital for the sick poor, but all such efforts failed for want of a sufficient fund to commence with. But in 1734 the large stone-built house at one end of St. Stephen’s Street, which had been built ten years before for an alms-house for poor girls, was handed over by “Mrs. Mary Mercer, spinster” to trustees, to be used as a hospital. She appointed, by deed, proper governors and directors to manage the hospital, and the site, being church-land, was given by Archdeacon Whittingham. The Corporation gave fifty pounds towards the expense of fitting up the hospital, and other subscriptions were received, and by 7th August, 1734, ten beds were ready for the sick poor and were immediately occupied. The physicians and surgeons appointed as governors undertook to attend the patients without payment, and several apothecaries and druggists made an annual subscription for supplying free medicines to the sick. As the hospital’s funds increased the number of beds was raised to forty, and a legacy of money by the will of a Captain Hayes enabled the governors to build a large addition to the hospital in 1738. In spite of this it was discovered that the governors not being incorporated could not legally receive legacies; an Act of Parliament was, therefore, obtained in 1750, giving power to purchase land, receive donations, and recover legacies, etc.
Surgeon Hume, who gave constant and gratuitous attendance at the hospital for a period of 60years, bequeathed £300 by his will, and a new ward being built was named “Hume’s Ward,” and an engraving of Hume was made and sold for the benefit of the funds of the hospital. Two ladies, Mrs. Pleasants and Miss Daunt, gave a donation of £500 and another ward was opened. In 1812 the hospital had six wards, with a total of 48 beds for the sick poor. It is recorded that the governors thought it unsatisfactory that necessity compelled two patients to occupy one bed on occasions when the number of patients exceeded the number of beds, but it was “not often” that this had occurred.
It may be a matter of surprise that Mercer’s Hospital, itself an alms-house, actually gives a corner portion of itself as an alms-house for the care of widows, which is described as St. Peter’s Alms-house, being under the charge of the clergy and church- wardens of St. Peter’s Parish. The house is, as I have said, part of the hospital, and usually accommodates eight widows, but at present has only six, which is in accordance with the steady decline in the numbers of inmates in alms-houses; and it may be that the reason is the assistance rendered by way of Old Age and Widows’ Pensions, which enables the recipients to be so moderately independent as to live out of the old-time alms-houses whose rules have but slightly departed from the time of the first founding, and certainly at a time when the Old Age and Widows’ Pensions were unknown. Even the widows of clergymen were not so well provided for as now-a-days, for a few doors from Mercer’s Hospital was a house, 2 Mercer Street, which was founded by Lady Anne Hume for six clergymen’s widows, who, in addition to their lodging, received £10 per annum. That the arrangement was not looked upon with particular favour by the Rev. J. Whitelaw may be judged from his remarks: “When we consider the very slender provision made for the unbeneficed clergy of the established church during their life, we deeply regret that this mean mansion, however creditable to the individual who founded it, should be the only provision made for their families at their death. To remedy this deficiency, a subscription was some time ago entered into by the clergy themselves, to supply, in annual income for the families of the deceased; but the poverty of the subscribers, and the number of applications, rendered this mode of relief hopeless. The number of unbeneficed clergymen in the diocese of Dublin amounts to about seventy, and the only provision for their widows is a small house, more mean and comfortless than a parish alms-house, into which six families are crowded, with an income of £60 a year to support them all! Yet even for this poor provision, the claimants are so numerous and meritorious, as to render the selection extremely embarrassing.”
The Alms-house for Clergymen’s Widows has gone, its place being taken over by the new wing of Mercer’s Hospital, so that part of the hospital is described in the Directory as Nos. 1 and 2 Mercer Street.
HOSPITAL FOR INCURABLES, 1744.
This is one of the most interesting of our hospitals, which in the early days of its founding was little more than an alms-house for “diseased objects,” rather an inhuman way of describing the unfortunates who were received into it. It is open to doubt that the Hospital for Incurables was founded from humanitarian motives; in fact I believe that it was because of the streets swarming with beggars and vagabonds preying on the charitable public by the exposure of various forms of deformity as to be somewhat of a menace; when we consider that means of travel were so slow as to allow the most afflicted to keep pace alongside such as a sedan chair, the disgust of the occupant can be imagined, with the hasty giving of alms to the human derelict in order to be rid of him; having got rid of one his place would be immediately taken by another, so that it must have been something in the nature of a nightmare to move through the streets ; and yet the unfortunate deformed beggars were not to blame, they had to live, and as no hospital would receive them, they being victims of incurable complaints, they flocked into the streets to receive the alms to sustain life in their shattered frames. Eventually the annoyance became so great that Lord Mornington (father of the Duke of Wellington) interested himself in the matter and formed a musical society to raise funds for the purpose of opening a house for such persons as were deemed incurable. Sufficient money was realised by means of concerts, etc., as to allow a small house to be rented in Fleet St., in 1744, into which, we are informed by WW&W, “the diseased objects whose exposure in the public streets was most offensive” were removed. It may, I think, be taken for granted that the word “removed” means forcibly so, is at a later date the Black Cart “removed” the “idle persons” from the streets that they might partake of the hospitality of the House of Industry. The small house in Fleet Street was soon unable to accommodate the numbers, and a large building was erected having six wards capable of accommodating over 100 patients; this was on Lazer’s Hill, or Townsend Street as it is now; the building was completed in 1753, and in that year the establishment removed to the new hospital. It seems that having succeeded in the erection of such a spacious building the Governors of the hospital took things easy, for in 1790 “but two of the wards were occupied by a few patients of both sexes, who were seldom supplied with clothes, and exhibited an appearance equally squalid and offensive”; and then it was that the Governors decided on a course of action which they soon after regretted; they applied to the Governors of the House of Industry, stating that, as they had four wards vacant in their hospital, they were willing to receive from 100 to 120 patients from the House of Industry, as were deemed incurable. The plan was something in the nature of a disaster, for “the class of patients sent from the House of Industry were of the lowest description,” and soon all discipline departed, for, we are again informed by WW&- W, “they brought with them all the vicious and immoral . . . habits, and soon introduced among the established patients of the house . . . their own habits and propensities,” so that it may be said that the late patients of the House of Industry were a law unto themselves; certain it is that they drove the Governors into the despairing belief that order could never again be restored and in that belief they offered the whole concern to the Governors of the House of Industry ; but to this plan there was so much opposition as to make the idea fill through ; soon after in the same year, 1790,
OLD ALMS-HOUSES OF DUBLIN 21
his place would be immediately taken by another,,so that it tntist have been something in the nature of a nightmare to move through the streets ; and yet the unfortunate deformed beggars were not to blame, they had to live, and as no hospital would receive thein, they being victims of incurable complaints, they flocked into the streets to receive the alms to sustain life in their shattered frames. Eventually the annoyance became so great that Lord Mornington (father of the Duke of Wellington) interested himself in the matter and formed a musical society to raise funds for the purpose of opening a house for such persons as were deemed incurable. Sufficient money was realised by means of concerts, etc., as to allow a small house to be rented in Fleet St., in 1744, into whicli, we are informed by WW&W, ” the diseased objects whose exposure in the public streets was most offensive ” were removed. It may, 1 think, be taken for granted that the word ” removed ” means forcibly so, is at a later date the Black Cart ” removed ” the ” idle persons ” from the streets that they might partake of the hospitality of the House of Industry. The small house in Fleet Street was soon unable to accommodate the numbers, and a large building was erected having six wards capable of accommodating over zoo patients; this was on Lazer’s Hill, or Townsend Street as it is now; the building was completed in 1753, and in that year the establishment removed to the new hospital. It seems that having succeeded in the erection of such a spacious building the Governors of the hospital took things easy, for in 1790 ” but two of the wards were occupied by a few patients of both sexes, who were seldom supplied with clothes, and exhibited an appearance equally squalid and offensive ” ; and then it was that the Governors decided on a course of action which they soon after regretted ; they applied to the Governors of the House of Industry, stating that, as they had four ward.-, vacant in their hospital, they were willing to receive from zoo to i2o patients from the House of Industry, as were deemed incur- able. The plan was something in the nature of a disaster, for 4 4the class of patients sent from the House of Industry were of the lowest description,” and soon all discipline departed, for, we are again informed by WW&- W, “they brought with them all the vicious and immoral . . . habits, and soon introduced among the established patients of the house . . . their own habits and propensities,” so that it may be said that the late patients of the House of Industry were a law unto themselves ; certain it is that they drove the Governors into the despairing belief that order could never again be restored. and in that belief they offered the whole concern to the Governors of the House of Industry ; but to this plan there was so much opposition as to make the idea fill through ; soon after in the same year, 1790, a legacy Of £4,000 was bequeathed to the hospital by a Mr. Wolf, and from this period the affairs of the hospital improved, business-like methods being adopted which soon finished the activities of the gentlemen from the House of Industry. In 1792 all exchange of buildings took place between the respective Governors of the Hospital for Incurables and the Westmorland Lock Hospital, and in that year the former removed to Donnybrook, the Lock Hospital taking up residence in Townsend Street.
Soon after its removal to Donnybrook the Governors of the Hospital for Incurables conceived the idea of taking in paying patients, or patients whose friends or relatives would contribute towards their maintenance; and so from an alms-house we now have one of the world’s finest hospitals devoted to the care of incurables.
ST. CATHERINE’S WIDOWS’ HOUSE, 1754.
This alms-house is situated in that most strangely named Marrowbone Lane, a name which will probably be changed within a few years, judging by the rapidity with which the old houses are being demolished in the “lane”: it is fairly certain that with new houses replacing the old ones a new street name will be found. The alms-house of St. Catherine’s is a splendid old building, with good grounds around it ; and it may be said that the building is almost concealed by reason of being enclosed with the houses of the street, or lane, front; entrance to the alms-house is gained by means of a passage-way leading from the lane. The history of the house, though short, is interesting, as its founding may be said to have been by one Isaac Summers who, in his will dated 27th May, 1741, bequeathed a plot of ground, “that a house may be built thereon, for use as an alms-house for distressed Protestant men and women; and towards its erection and maintenance I bequeath an Annuity of Five Pounds, Irish currency.” While the house was erected for men and women, there is no record of men being received as inmates; the house appears capable of accommodating about fifty persons, but actually there are but five widows in it. The ground landlord is the Earl of Meath, to whom a nominal rent of one shilling is paid annually. Under the old lease relating to the alms-house, the Trustees were put to legal expense whenever an Earl of Meath died, for through an oversight the words “or his successors” were omitted; and as both parties were put to trouble and expense a compromise was effected whereby the Trustees of St. Catherine’s recognised the “successors,” in return for which the ground rent of the alms-house was reduced to merely a nominal sum. In concluding my short history of this house, I mention the fact that adjoining Marrowbone Lane is Summer Street ; without going into the origin of the street, I am of the opinion that, if it is not actually named after Isaac Summers, it certainly is named after a member, or members, of the same family.
FORTICK’S CHARITY-HOUSE, 1755.
“This Charity House was built and endowed in the year 1755 by Tristram Fortick, a citizen of Dublin, late of Fortick’s Grove in the Co. of Dublin, Esq ; for the use of reduced women who had lived in good repute.”
Thus reads the inscription on the tablet over a house in Denmark Street, or Liffey Street as it was when the house was founded. This is one of the principal alms-houses of old Dublin and its present state of preservation is a fitting tribute by the Trustees to the memory of the founder, Tristram Fortick, a great philanthropist, who, like many others, such as George Simpson and Mary Mercer, found a resting-place in St. Mary’s Churchyard; on August 18th, 1755, he was buried there, aged 80 years. He was interred privately as was his wish.
By Fortick’s will, dated 9th March, 1755, probate of which was granted on 25th August, 1755, he appointed a number of trustees to carry out his wishes, one of the trustees being William Dawson. The following were some of the bequests: £25, Per Annum, to be paid half-yearly “to my Half-Sister, Margaret Barker,” and the sum of £5 “to buy mourning.” £200 to “Henry Sheridan, son of the late John Sheridan,” and the sum of £20 “to buy mourning.” £200 to “Judith Roe, daughter of my late niece, Mary Roe, nee Gunning.” £50 to “my cousin, Mary Porter.” £50 to “my kinswoman, Anne McNeill.” £5 to “my old servant,- Daniel Flanagan.” £10 to “my cousin, Elizabeth Grady,” “and I hereby request my trustees that this sum be paid to Elizabeth Grady without the intermeddling of her husband.” [!] £5 to “my kinswoman, Elizabeth McLoughlin, of Coleraine.” £5, to be paid annually, “to my housekeeper, commonly called Jane Mullen,” and the sum of £20 to buy mourning, for “her diligent and faithful services to me.”
“And Whereas I have built a Charity House in Liffey Street, in the suburbs of Dublin, for the reception of poor widows and other helpless women, being Protestant; for its support I hereby order and direct that the rents, issues and profits of the two houses lately built by me. with appurtenances, in Jervis Street, Dublin, now tenanted by the widow Hancock and George Meares, on part of the ground purchased from the widow Tucker; and I hereby submit the care and management of this charity house to my trustees, and after their decease to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Minister or Rector of St. Marys, for the time being. And I Bequeath the Residue of my property to the boy, William Wright, who lives in my house, after he attains the age of twenty years, and it is my wish that lie change his name to William Fortick: but if William Wright dies before attaining the age of twenty years the Residue is to be left to the Lord Chancellor that the proceeds be left for the founding of a Home for Decayed Tradesmen. And to William Dawson I Bequeath the sum of £100 for his trouble in carrying out the terms of this will.”
In a codicil dated 9th March, 1755, he leaves a further sum of £5 per annum, to his half-sister, Margaret Barker; and to his housekeeper, Jane Mullen, a further sum of £10 per annum, together with “the furniture of her own room.”
The two houses referred to as being in Jervis Street are no longer existing, the site is now occupied by portion of Todd, Burns & Co.’s extensive premises; but ground rent is derived therefrom and forms part of the Fortick endowment. That the endowment reaches substantial figures can be judged by the fact that it covers the entire cost of upkeep of the charity house, in which there are thirteen inmates at present.
In WW&-W it is stated that Fortick’s Widows’ Alms-house “resembles that in Great Britain Street [Damer’s] both in the nature of the institution, and in the arrangement of the plan of the building; it is however on a smaller scale, the galleries being only five feet wide, and the apartments about 13 by 11 feet 6 inches, and not so lofty. The front is of brick, the rear of rough stone, and the latter has bulged and separated a few inches from the cross partitions, but as this fissure has not increased for many years it is not thought dangerous. The spacious area in front has a cock and pipe that supplies abundance of good water, and in the rear is a yard and grass plot of about 60 by 100 feet, well-secured. The apartments were originally 32 in number, but those on the ground floor, the funds we suppose not being, adequate to their support, have been judiciously divided into small coal holes, of which each widow has one appropriated to her sole use. There are twenty four apartments, and as the housekeeper, who is also one of the widows, occupies two, the widows are 23 in number, who receive about £3. 10s. each per annum, with a bag of coals at Christmas. “
“Whether the inmates of this alms-house are more judiciously selected, or that the superintendence of the institution is more attended to, we do not presume to determine, but the appearance of the widows, and their apartments, is very different from what we see in the alms-house already alluded to (Damer’s). Here many of the rooms are uncommonly clean with an air of neatness and comfort, to which the possession of a receptacle for their fuel, separate from the apartment, must contribute much; some indeed were occupied by widows in extreme indigence, but even these, though destitute of furniture, were not rendered Disgusting by dirt.”
For information given to me upon the subject of Fortick’s Alms-house, I am grateful to Rev. Dr. Emerson, Rector of St. Mary’s, who evidently has very much at heart the interests of the thirteen present occupants.
Some of my listeners may wonder where Tristram Fortick’s house, “Fortick’s Grove,” was, and it may be interesting to state that this is the building afterwards known as “Clonliffe House.” Before Clonliffe Road was made there was a lane here called “Fortick’s Lane.”
ST. ANNE’S WIDOWS’ HOUSE, 1757 (?)-
The Parochial Alms-house of the Parish of St. Anne is in Schoolhouse Lane, South, formerly Kildare Lane; its period of establishment is about 1757, and at present there are but two widows; the house is remarkable in that it also houses the society known as the Charitable Musical Society, a body instituted in 1756 for the purpose of raising funds by means of concerts, and other musical entertainment, the proceeds to be devoted to the relief of poor debtors. It is a matter of interest that a society formed in 1756 should be operating today for the purpose of lending out money, interest free, to indigent and industrious tradesmen. This Charitable Musical Society does not claim to be the original one that was formed in the “Bull’s-Head Tavern” in Fishamble Street in 1730, although some connexion is claimed; it is likely too that a connexion is claimed with the Musical Society of Dublin which, in 1741, drew forth the Dean of St. Patrick’s famous Exhortation, addressed to the Sub-Dean and Chapter of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
METHODIST ALMS-HOUSE, 1766.
This alms-house was founded in 1766 by John Wesley, its location then being in Whitefriar Street and its management was under the preachers in Dublin, together with seven Trustees ; the original Trustees were: George Grant, William Hall, James Martin, Thomas Bond, Patrick Geoghegan, Thomas Bible, and William Gaskell. The cost of erection was £700, towards which a Mr. Joseph Terry contributed £100. In 1767, twenty widows were admitted, being furnished with beds, bedding, coal, and candles, as well as a small weekly amount of money for their other needs. The house, as such, removed later to Grantham Street, continuing there up to a few years ago, when they removed once more, this time to a house named East Well, Palmerston Park, this house having been purchased in 1933 for the use of widows and spinsters; there are thirteen inmates in the house at present, and for its upkeep dependence is made on Legacies, Subscriptions, and church collections. In regard to Church collections, it may be said that these took the form of charity sermons, which were held in the Meeting-Houses of the society in Whitefriar Street and at Gravel Walk, on which occasions all denominations of Protestants attended. Gravel Walk is, of course, the present Hendrick Street, situated off Queen Street.
ST. JOSEPH’S FEMALE ORPHANAGE, 1770.
The oldest orphanage, in Dublin is St. Joseph’s Female Orphanage, Mountjoy Street, started in 1770 by some tradesmen to shelter a few destitute children who had conic under their notice, it enjoys the honour of being the oldest of its kind. St. Joseph’s is a Catholic institution, and from its modest beginning has developed into one of the principal orphanages; it was in 1866 that a house was provided, to accommodate the increasing number of orphans, by the Josephian Society. The house was later enlarged and placed in charge of the Sisters of Charity, who have done so much splendid work in our city. The orphans are trained for situations and are usually placed in them, so that they get a fair start in life.
ST. JAMES’S WIDOWS’ HOUSE, FOUNDED 1771.
This alms-house is situated in St. James’s Street and presently accommodates but two widows, one being a clergyman’s widow; for a number of years there were four widows but two have died recently, and but two remain in occupation. This is one of the endowed alms-houses and its present condition is a credit to the trustees. The history of its founding is most interesting as its existence is solely due to a Dublin “jarvey,” John Loggins.
Loggins was a native of Bow-bridge, St. James’s parish, and carried on business as hackney-coachman; he became the proprietor of two coaches and engaged in driving the judges of assize when they went on circuit, which helped to make him so sufficiently prosperous that he was able to become the owner of house property in Bow-bridge and its vicinity, which brought in an income of about £40 per annum; having thus secured himself Loggins became, as they say now-a-days, “fond of the drink,” and was imprisoned for drunken debts, often by those whom he regarded as his friends; and it is recorded of him, “that having reduced himself at a public tavern to a state of beastly intoxication, he was in that condition placed in a basket on a porter’s back, and thus carried in open day through the public streets, to his house in Bow-bridge.” It seems that Loggins was a sensitive man, or perhaps it was the “morning after” feeling, but certain it is that he did not like the tales told to him of his drunken homecomings and he decided that the whole thing had to cease. What had the most sobering effect on Loggins was the following incident. One of his coach-horses was so vicious that it was positively dangerous to approach it; and one night Loggins, drunk, collapsed under the animal’s feet and so remained until morning brought sobriety; when Loggins realised the escape that he had from being killed, or at least severely injured, he decided that the thing was due to a miracle, or something akin to a miracle. On another occasion he was driving back from a circuit and the wheels of his carriage had scarcely cleared Kilcullen Bridge when the arch over which he had just passed gave way, and tumbled into the Liffey. This finally convinced Loggins that he would have to “give up the drink,” and to do that it was necessary to give up driving, which he did, selling his carriages and horses, and having got rid of the temptations became an ardent teetotaller. Loggins became very pious and abstained from food two days in each week ; about this time he decided on converting his unoccupied stables into an alms-house for poor widows, and by hard work succeeded in making the building habitable for the reception of six indigent and infirm widows; Loggins’s dwelling stood beside his little alms-house, and as his means increased he kept adding room after room until eventually his own house was the alms-house, housing twenty widows. Loggins died on 23rd July, 1774, and by his will, dated 1771, appointed the vicar and churchwardens of the parish of St. James, and their successors, trustees of the charity; and for that purpose devised to them the alms-house, with forty shillings per annum towards its support; this was added to by an annual charity sermon (which brought in about £130) and with the investing of surplus funds the alms-house is now able to exist on the interest of the money invested.
As the result of a visit paid to the alms-house in 1812 WW& W inform us that “the comforts of the poor widows [were] much improved. In lieu of their former scanty allowance of provisions, they now receive 3s. 3d. with a half-quartern loaf each her week ; they are fully clothed every second year, and in the intermediate year receive each a shift and petticoat, with a pair of stockings and shoes.”
It would seem that the present alms-house does not occupy the original site, which would appear to have been a little to the rear of the present house. A map in the possession of the Dublin Whiskey Distillery Co. shows the present site as a grass-plot. The D.W.D. Co. are the ground landlords of the alms-house and receive a nominal rent from it.
SIMPSON’S HOSPITAL, FOUNDED I781.
The once familiar figures of old men sauntering along Great Britain Street, dressed in blue “pilot “ cloth, tall hat of black felt, and walking-stick, bring to mind a description of the inmates of Simpson’s Hospital as they appeared before the Great War. That these old gentlemen enjoyed their declining years in comfort was due to the generosity of one George Simpson, Merchant, who, remembering his own sufferings, had thought for others similarly affected.
George Simpson resided at No. 24 Jervis Street, where he died in the closing days of the year 1778; he was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, on 3rd January, 1779. Simpson died a rich man and left the most of his fortune to his wife, “to be enjoyed by her during her lifetime”; he had large property interests in the County Roscommon, and lands at Pelletstown, County Dublin; in addition he was the owner of house property in different parts of the city. He named as trustees thirteen gentlemen, all of the City of Dublin, who were to carry out his wishes with regard to the final disposal of his income and residue, they being appointed as follows: “I appoint my friends, James Forbes, Travers Hartley, Edward Strettle, Thomas Reid, Redmond Morris, Morgan Crofton, James Ford, the Rev. Doctor Law, Alexander Jaffray, William Barton, Nevill Forth, Martin Brownley, and Matthew Coleman,” and the trust placed on them was that after the death of his wife, Catherine Simpson, they were to hold his fortune in trust, “and thereout to erect and support and maintain, an hospital for the reception of such poor decayed, blind and gouty men as they shall think worthy of such a charity.”
Of the charities that were benefited by bequests from “George Simpson, of the City of Dublin, Esq.,” it is noticeable that the schools of the various parishes came in for special favour, in particular that of the parish of St. Mary’s; to the Incorporated Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland, he left the sum of £1,000 and the Blue Coat Hospital received £500, as did also the Governors of the Marine Schools, “for the use of that charity.” Six churches, namely, St. Nicholas Within, St. Nicholas Without, St. John’s, St. Audoen’s, St. Paul’s, and St. Catherine’s, received £100 each for the “Poor Charity Boys” of their respective parishes. The French Charity School also received £100, “for the benefit of the Poor Boys of this institution”; but his own district received a larger amount, for we find that the “Poor School of St. Mary’s Parish” received £250. His bequests also included £300 each to three hospitals, “that erected by Mrs. Mary Mercer,” which had been opened in 1734 ; St. Catherine’s Hospital ; and the Inns Quay Infirmary. The Governors and Governesses of the Magdalene Asylum, Leeson Street, were left £250, and Mr. Thomas Corless, merchant, was left £100 “for the use of the Poor Alms House in St. Jame’s Parish.”
Two years after the death of Mr. Simpson, there came into being the institution that he desired to have established. He had been for many years a sufferer from weak eyes, and “a complete martyr to the gout”; therefore, his sympathies had been directed towards those similarly affected, so in 1781 the house in Great Britain Street opened its doors to receive the first guests in Simpson’s Hospital, the word “hospital” meaning in this case, “an institution or establishment for dispensing hospitality or caring for the needy, or an asylum for shelter and maintenance.” After a few years it was found that this residence was not sufficiently large to accommodate the inmates with comfort, so they were removed to Jervis Street while a substantial building was erected on the site at a cost of £6,458, and a splendid dining-hall was added at a further cost of £2,000 that the inmates might be more comfortable. The garden attached to the building was fair size having grass plots and gravel walks, along which benches were placed for the residents that they might rest. The two ailments from which the inmates suffered, blindness and gout, were in no way a handicap in some instances; it is said that an “interesting spectacle is to see the interchange of offices, each making use of that organ of his neighbour of which he is himself deprived. In this way, the patients who are deprived of the use of their limbs by the severity of the gout are supported about by their blind friends whose motions they direct and guide; while in return a lame patient is frequently seen surrounded by a group of the blind, to whom he reads a newspaper “which is supplied for that purpose, or some book of entertainment or instruction.”
Simpson’s Hospital is no longer situated within the City of Dublin, for sonic years ago a desirable property near Dundrum came into the market, and the trustees took the opportunity of purchasing it, and transferred the hospital and its inmates to this new position in beautiful and healthy surroundings. The fine stone building in Parnell Street is now part of the extensive offices of Messrs. Williams & Woods.
MORAVIAN ALMS-HOUSE, 1802.
Ask a person in Whitefriars Street, “where is the Moravian Widows’, House?” and you are likely to occasion that person some mental anguish but if you ask the same person, “where is Six-and-a-Half ?” immediate knowledge is manifested, and the old Meeting House is pointed out; it is not the Meeting House that interests us, but the old house alongside it, ensconced in a small corner as if wishing to avoid attention, and doubtless that was the intention of the founder, Mr. Andrew Moller, a Moravian, who, in 1802, by way of bequest, was the medium of the founding. Moller’s bequest was sufficient to allow thirteen “widows and aged females” to be accommodated in the house , he also left a sum of money, the interest of which provided coals and candles. The inmates received a weekly allowance from the receipts of the Meeting House. The number at present in the alms-house is four, and I can testify that they are perfectly-mannered ladies, very courteous and willing to give what information they possess concerning the history of the house.
MOLYNEUX ASYLUM, 1815.
A well-known Asylum for female blind is the Molyneux Asylum ; founded in 1815, it certainly served a very useful purpose and although its early days were modest in regard to the number of inmates, 14, Yet the good intention made up for the lack of substantial means. The Asylum was founded in the house known as Molyneux House, St. Peter’s Street, and functioned there for the best part of a century, finally removing to Leeson Park in 1852, where it carries on the good work in quiet surroundings. But although the Asylum, as such, has departed from Peter Street, the house remains, a mute witness to the many changes that have taken place within, and without, its doors; at one time enjoying itself as a well-ordered home for a “man of medicine,” then as a circus where the “Bucks” fore-gathered to make merry in boisterous fashion and, if at all possible to end the night’s performance in a riot; then the advent of the Asylum with its corresponding quietness, and lastly, its present use, a Shelter for Men under the care of the Salvation Army. Molyneux House was, as the tablet over the door tells us, erected in 1711; the inscription reads : “THIS HOUSE WAS ERECTED IN THE YEAR 1711 BY SIR THOMAS MOLYNEUX, BART.; DESCENDED FROM SIR THOMAS MOLYNEUX, CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER IN THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH.”
The Molyneux Arms are still over the door, in splendid preservation, and will, no doubt, remain there for many a year, as nothing like a “Lion and Unicorn” appears in the embellishments, which probably accounts for the lack of interest displayed in it. Sir Thomas Molyneux was, perhaps, better known as Dr. Thomas Molyneux, and when he erected this fine house he was known as the man who had been President of the College of Physicians some years previous, 1702, 1709, 1713 and 1720. In 1717 he held the position of Physician-General to the Army in Ireland. On 4th July 1730, he was created a Baronet, and he died in the year 1733. For some years afterwards the house was occupied by various members of the family, till in 1789 we find the famous Astley taking over the house for use as an “Amphitheatre for Horsemanship,” etc.; and there the public was amused for many years with deeds of daring in the saddle. In order that the musical taste of the public should be satisfied, we are informed that that splendid party tune “Croppies Lie Down” was played every night, but we are also informed that for some unaccountable reason the playing of it did not please everybody, for while it pleased a section of the audience, vulgarly called Orangemen, it irritated another section called United Irishmen ; and so one evening, the moment the band struck up, a number of young men jumped into the orchestra-box and broke all the instruments ; and then the fight became a general one, the opposing factions extending their battle-line “from the house right into the adjoining streets and the extraordinary thing was that although the Kilkenny Militia were on duty in the vicinity they did not interfere when they saw that the United Irishmen more than held their own. The pity was that these nightly riots could not last for ever, and Astley sold out his interest to a Mr. H. Johnston, who intended to make the house a rival to Crow Street, but the attempt failed, and the whole concern reverted, by process of ejectment, to the family of the original proprietor, and then in 1815 the house was taken over for use as a Blind Asylum at an annual rental of £100, and there we leave our short history of an old Dublin alms-house.
MENDICITY INSTITUTION, 1818
When Moira House was erected in 1752 by Sir John Rawdon, later Earl of Moira, and was the scene of numerous banquets, balls, etc., little thought was given that in the year 1818 the scene would be changed ; instead of beautiful ladies and handsome gentlemen of note thronging the rooms, we find the sad spectacle of the rooms being thronged with the less fortunate members of society, the mendicants, for whose suppression the “Association For The Suppression Of Mendicity In Dublin” took over Moira House that it might be a daytime alms-house for the class mentioned. In the First Annual Report issued for the year 1818 the purpose of the Association is made clear as follows –
“In order that the nature and extent of these proceedings may be more fully understood, and that the public may be made acquainted with the magnitude and character of the evil for the Suppression of which you associated, it becomes necessary to recur to the situation of Dublin with respect to Mendicity previous to the commencement of your labours.”
“It would be necessary here to state the great number of Beggars which, for a series of years, infested the streets of this Metropolis; to trace the causes would be difficult, and, in this instance, a superfluous task: it is sufficient to say, that the number, always considerable, was greatly increased by the effects of the termination of the war upon the trading and agricultural interests in this country – by the disbanding of large portions of the army and navy – and by two years of almost unexampled scarcity.”
“The extent of the distress thereby produced, and the laudable efforts made by the benevolent to relieve it, not only increased the evil of Mendicity to an alarming degree in Dublin, but gave it a character, form, and virulence which appeared to place it beyond the reach of cure. These circumstances rendered even the cold-hearted munificent; every asylum in the City being full, begging appeared, not only excusable, but justifiable; every hand distributed alms, a great part of the disgrace of seeking charity being removed, there were numerous candidates to receive them; and so relaxed was the principle of independence in the poor of Dublin, that many, who had other means of procuring bread, occasionally resorted to Street Begging in preference to labour. This was the case with several idle Manufacturers, who preferred such a mode of maintaining themselves to working at their trades.”
“From all these causes, the City presented a spectacle at once afflicting and disgusting to the feelings of the inhabitants; the doors of carriages and shops, to the interruption of business, were beset by crowds of unfortunate and clamorous beggars, exhibiting misery and decrepitude in a variety of forms, and frequently carrying about in their persons and garments the seeds of contagious disease; themselves the victims of idleness, their children were taught to depend on Begging, as affording the only means of future subsistence ; every artifice was resorted to by the practised Beggar to extort alms, and refusal was frequently followed by imprecations and threats.”
“The benevolent were imposed upon – the modest shocked – the timid alarmed – the reflecting grieved. In short, so distressing was the whole scene, and so intolerable was the nuisance, that its suppression became a matter of necessity. The subject forced itself on the consideration of the inhabitants of Dublin, so strongly that several gentlemen, unknown to each other and without any communication, were at the same time occupied in devising a remedy for the evil. This similarity of pursuit at length brought these persons together and a Public Meeting was held at the Mansion-house, in the month of May, 1817, when it was determined that an effort should be made to suppress Mendicity, and a Committee was then appointed to draw up a Plan, to be submitted to the Citizens of Dublin for their approval.”
The Second Annual Report, for the year 1819, tells of the means adopted to provide employment in the Institution :
“The anxious consideration of the Committee was bestowed on this important point, and naturally led them to inquire into the different modes of labour adopted by some of the large charitable Establishments in London; among these they found the Parish of St. Martins employed a considerable number of its poor in pulverising Oyster Shells for manure; the simplicity of this process at once struck them, and the facility of procuring the materials necessary to make the experiment induced them to give it an immediate trial ; the result of which has proved satisfactory in every way; large numbers being employed ; the purchase of machinery being unnecessary ; and a profit likely to accrue to the Institution. The Committee begs to draw attention to the opinion expressed by an expert on the properties of artificial manure manufactured from Oyster Shells.”
The opinion referred to may be found in this Report, which also tells us that
“The one way to cut off the temptation to beg was for the Institution to collect all the ‘broken meat’ throughout the town, and an idea also prevailed that a considerable reduction in the expenditure of the Institution might thus be effected. The diet of the Mendicants had been the subject of attention and a change was deemed desirable. Laudable and humane, however, as the motives were, which prompted this change, it was unfortunately brought about in a manner likely to be productive of serious consequences Soup and wheaten bread were at first distributed; the quantity given out was not, perhaps, objectionable; but it soon appeared to your Committee, that they were in error in providing food of so fine a quality to feed the poor belonging to such an Establishment with bread of that description, was to allow them a kind of diet, not only to which they themselves were not accustomed, but which was totally beyond the power of the class immediately above them in society to enjoy; and thus it was feared that an inducement might it be held out to that class to forfeit their independence, and throw themselves on the same charity for support – also the stated allowance of feed being given to all classes, employed and unemployed, was found to be wrong. After much inquiring., and various experiments on the subject, which, simple as it may appear, occupied a considerable amount of time and attention, an expedient as satisfactory as can be devised was determined on; the meat and bones collected in the carts were separated as carefully as possible from any thing improper; and boiled down with potatoes and other vegetables; the whole was then thoroughly mixed and seasoned thus forming a diet at once cheap and nutritious, and which, it may be observed, is nearly the same food that Mendicants themselves are in the habit of collecting, from door to door, only prepared in a cleanly and more wholesome manner. Three pounds four ounces of this food were given as rations once in the day, the price of which, to those who wished to purchase it, was fixed at one penny, being on a fair calculation, something less than the cost of making it to the Institution.”
Passing over a number of years we again take up a Report, this time for 1832, and there we read that “able-bodied Mendicants are generally placed on the Stone Breakers’ list, as a test of the reality of their distress, and of their anxiety to procure employment.” Apparently the noble art of stone-breaking was not confined to the male mendicants, for in the same Report there is an abstract showing the numbers, occupations, and allowances of the mendicants, and stone-breaking seems to have been regarded as the one occupation in which both men and women excelled, and for the week ending 31st December, 1832, we find 13 men and 69 women engaged at that task. From the, reading of the Report it would appear that the 13 men accounted for the breaking of from ten to twenty tons , while the 69 women accounted for the breaking of twenty-five tons , for which, at the end of the day, they received the sum of four pence; men and women receiving the same rate. Other occupations, numbers and allowances are as follows :
Spinners, 138 : Females 2d. per Hank.
Reelers, 9 : Females: 10d. per Week.
Overseers, 1 :Female 1d. per Day.
Knitters of Stockings, 66 : Females – Various Rates.
Women with children in arms, 68: – 1d. per day.
Oakum-pickers, 487 : Females – 1d. per day.
Overseers, 2 male, 1 female – 2d. per day.
Carters were Allowed 8d. per cwt., for the meat and bones they collected, and 2d. per cwt. for bread, and such other matters as were not available for the stew. The bread was distributed among the orphans.
“There are now 56 orphans, 36 boys and 20 girls, in the Institution, for each of whom an allowance of 5d. per week is given to some woman selected from the Mendicants for taking care of the child at her home, after leaving the Institution in the evening.”
We again take up a Report, this time for the year 1836, read in Morrison’s Great Rooms on Monday, 9th January, 1837, and in it the Committee complain of the lack of assistance given by the Government; and of the support withheld by members of the public, who, because of their suggestions not being seriously considered by the Committee fail to give that financial assistance so necessary for the upkeep of the Institution. The Committee point out that it would be impossible to carry out the various, and often contradictory, plans suggested; this is one of the suggestions, “That a Tract of Waste Mountain Land near the City, be reclaimed by the labours of the poor of the institution”; The Committee, very properly, asks . “Who is to dig and labour at it ?, is it our 1,027 old women, and our equally helpless 140 old men?, for of strong men we have but 48 in the Institution, and Of these 30 are requisite for the work of the house, leaving only 18 male stone-breakers for outdoor employment should opportunity offer.” The Committee also states: “It has been from all quarters urged upon out most serious attentions that if the streets were kept free from beggars, everyone would cheerfully assist our exertions. So long as so many professed Mendicants remain in our streets, so long will assistance be denied to our efforts. It will be remembered that within the first 18 months of establishment of the Institution, that 6,000 beggars made application for aid. The grievance is an old one in our City, for in the year 1773, 1,800 licenses to beg were granted by the House of Industry to Badged Mendicants! in the face of such allowance, the unlicensed beggars constantly accumulated.”
That large numbers flocked to the Institution for aid there can be no doubt, for in the year 1899, 55,116 persons were relieved, a considerable number, and unquestionably, a severe strain on the financial resources of the Institution, which depended on the subscriptions received from the public that they might carry on the work of suppressing mendicity; it appears that the subscriptions varied in many ways; here are a few quaint subscriptions
“Received 13s. 2d. From sale of one ham and four geese. “
Received 2s. 6d. from an old vice.
Received 10s. 6d. From Mr. Drummond, Trinity St. being part of a sum found in a purse in the Phoenix Park.
Received 7s. 6d. Value of Buckles, supposed to be stolen, per Mr. A. Lawrence, Thomas St.”
It is when closing the Reports that a quotation on the cover catches one’s attention for its aptness in relation to the Institution it reads as follows:
“I cannot but think it a reproach, worse than that of common swearing, that the idle and abandoned are suffered, in the name of Heaven, and all that is sacred, to extract from Christian and tender minds a supply to a profligate way of life that is always to be supported, but never relieved.”- Spectator, NO. 232.
The Mendicity Institution being only a daytime alms-house, it might be of interest to find out where the unfortunate mendicants pass the night, and to ascertain such we follow in their shuffling wake, crossing by the Liffey bridges, when their destination is found to be Bow Street, and there outside a fine old house they take their stand until 5 p.m., when the door opens and they crowd into……… .
THE NIGHT ASYLUM FOR HOUSELESS POOR, 1838
I may be taxing your patience by including it in the category of alms- houses, but alms-house it was, a trifle disguised; it had, in a sense, allied itself with the Mendicity Institution, which will be apparent by the reading of the purpose for which it was founded:
“For………providing shelter of a roof at night, other than that of the workhouse, for the homeless poor, and all area admitted who are sober, and destitute; but persons whose previous conduct in the Asylum has been disorderly are excluded. The hours of admission are from 5 to 7pm, but strangers are admitted up to 11pm. No food is provided, but many inmates obtain a meal at the Mendicity Institution.”
There we have the purpose, which doubtless was a good one, but the Report of the Asylum for 1899, tells us that for nine months of that year the number admitted was 14,337; highest number being 203 and the lowest 74 per night – and these numbers in a house which could accommodate 170 persons as stated in the Report. It seems amazing that an ordinary dwelling house could accommodate 170 persons in any degree of comfort, but the Asylum was not given to the matter of comfort, but to simply providing the “roof” that afforded the “shelter”; actually, no beds were provided, the floors were the sleeping space; in order that the men and women, in their separate rooms should sleep more comfortably, a wooden ledge was fitted around the room making a rude sort of pillow, and no doubt many a restful sleep was obtained from the use of both, the floor :and the wooden ledge. To prevent the Asylum front being made a permanent habitation, it was a rule to bring before a committee all persons whose stay exceeded 14 nights, and having gone into the merits of each case to extend the number of nights, in most cases, but as a rule no inmate was allowed to remain longer than one month: and no person who had finally left was eligible for re-admission till after three months had elapsed. The “one bright spot” of the Report is contained in the words, “This institution is non- sectarian”; what a relief this meant to the men and women who “enjoyed” the 14 nights’ comfort; that perfect sense of restfulness that only persons who sleep on floors, with a wooden ledge as pillow, could appreciate and delight in, and this at the end of a day spent over at the Mendicity, “where a meal was obtained,”providing that one was not an habitual meal-seeker.
The “Night Refuge” was probably the first night (free) shelter of its kind, a lowly lodging for the waifs and strays of Dublin, who gathered at the door each evening waiting to be admitted into it, that they might escape from the grim ordeal of having to sleep out in doorways of tenements, with the risk of a prying policeman rousing the unfortunate and later charging him with that most common of offences, “loitering”; ” so it was that many went to Bow Street in preference to being classed as potential criminals.
The “Night Refuge” accepted both men and women lodgers two rooms were provided for each sex ; in the case of the men, they enjoyed a view of St. Michan’s Churchyard, probably as a reminder that their lot was that of the living dead. Here is a description of the refuge by a man who had the pleasure of staying there for four nights in what were known as “the good old days” (or nights):
“I remember staying four nights in the night refuge in Bow-street, about 60 years ago; the times were bad for the down-and-out, not like now-a-days when you have so many good charitable institutions, but 60 years ago such was not the case and the poor man got a bad time of it, there being no free night shelter except Bow-street. The women had several places to go to, such as Brickfield-lane; but not so the men, so Bow-street it had to be. I found myself, with many others, standing at the door awaiting to be admitted, and when that time arrived I found myself in a large clean room (it was washed out several times in the week); in the middle of the room was a permanent seat, at each end was another fixed seat. There was no fire, but as the weather was not cold at the time I did not mind; I believe that in the winter time a small fire was provided. Around the walls was a projecting timber so that when you lay down on the floor you could rest your head on this as a pillow, a very hard one but even so a welcome one. There was no food provided, just the shelter; in one corner of the room was a lavatory and in another corner was a tub of water, said to be clean, that we might drink if we felt so inclined, but nothing in the solid line. I remember noting the different types around me; they were of all kinds, some were countrymen using the shelter that they might be near for the cattle market, at the same time saving lodging money; but for the most part they were of the real down-and-out lot, some being of the begging line – one of which called for a bit of paper that he might empty his pockets of the collection of scraps of bread, tea, sugar and other odds and ends, and from somewhere an old black can was produced and a little fire lighted, and some tea made : then we got a piece of paper and brushed the floor with it. At 7.30, the caretaker came in and told us to get ready for the preacher, and that gentleman read a piece from the Bible and departed leaving us less happy than before he came. At 8 o’clock the door was closed and bolted from the outside, so that no one could leave if they had felt so inclined, but no one did. For the most part my room-mates lay down on the floor to sleep, fully clothed, but a few old stagers removed their pants and spread that article on the floor and lay on it covering their bodies with their own old coats; there was no covering clothing provided, so it cannot be said to have been a restful night’s sleep, but beggars cannot be choosers. When morning came we were let out without any food and many crossed over to the hot wall to warm the numbness out of their bones – I can tell you I was one of that lot. Friday night was a great night at the refuge; on that night you went and gave your name as usual but instead of going up to the back room you were allowed to cross over to the Coombe “ragged school” where a good meal was provided for the Refuge men; but it was a well earned meal, for the whole route from Bow-street to the Coombe had numbers of boys with every kind of projectile to throw at us and at the same time calling out “there goes the soupers”; it was a terrible gauntlet that we had to run, and, unfortunately, was a weekly one for the regular inmates of the refuge.”
The Night Asylum For Houseless Poor closed its door for the last time in 1917.
ST. JOSEPH’S ASYLUM, PORTLAND Row, 1836.
Founded by Dr. Blake, Lord Bishop of Dromore, to provide a home for Aged and Virtuous Females’ being Catholic, who are unable through age or infirmity to earn a living. Income is derived from donations, charity sermons, and an annual bazaar. An extract from the charity sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. O’Brien, in the Church of St. Francis Xavier, Dublin, on Sunday, 7th MAY, 1846, shows the purpose fully .
“You need not be informed that twenty-nine fellow-beings are inmates of St. Joseph’s Asylum. They have outlived property, labour, and friendship, and nothing remains to them now but virtue and sorrow and your alms. They claim from Christian hands, in a Christian Land, refuge from the gripe of famine, and retirement in their old age, where they may pray for their benefactors and die. I cannot awaken many of your worldly apprehensions; there are some which might wring from terror what charity would not concede, for the inhabitants of St. Joseph’s are helpless, as well as destitute, women; relieved or abandoned, their days and their miseries must soon close.”
The building is a fine one, built of brick, and well-ordered.
ST. VINCENT DE PAUL’S GIRLS’ ORPHANAGE, 1858.
When the name “St. Vincent de Paul” is mentioned it is often taken for granted that it refers to the lay organisation, the members of which visit the houses of the very poor to give the aid so badly needed; this is not quite correct, for other activities are carried on under the same name, and we find the girls’ orphanage in North William Street under the capable, and tender, care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Started in 1858 it has received over 3,000 since its inception, who in addition, to receiving an excellent education are trained that they may become domestic servants, and are also trained to do fine needlework. At present there are over 200 children in the Institution.
ST. JOSEPH’s NIGHT REFUGE, BRICKFIELD LANE, 1861.
This alms-house was founded by Rev. Dr. Spratt, in 1861 as a “Night Refuge for Women and Children,” but in recent years children are no longer admitted. The number of women seeking admission does not exceed thirty persons weekly, although in the early years of its existence the numbers were considerably higher; the charity is under the care of the Sisters of Charity, and only persons who are believed to he awaiting employment are admitted. The house has a history, in that it has been the means of affording a helping hand to the needy, and that may be said to date back to the 13th April, 1814, when the first stone was laid for the building of what was called the Stove Tenter House ; at the risk of boring you with what is well known already, I give its history in brief.
The weaving industry in Dublin was at one time largely followed, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was computed that about 550 woollen looms were engaged in the Liberties, and as each loom employed about eight persons to work it, and allowing an average of five in each family, it showed that sonic 22,000 of the population were depending on this class of work. For many winters great hardship existed among the weavers as the weather rendered it impossible for them to dry their wool, warp, or cloths ; unable to continue their earnings, they were in large numbers reduced to misery and want, and driven into the streets, hospitals, and charitable institutions ; many were imprisoned for debt. Representations were made setting forth the hardships under which they suffered, but nothing was done; a number of individuals had it in mind to erect a house for the drying of the materials, and contemplated the issuing of debentures, the debenture holders to receive the profits of the house, if any ; it may be that the computation of the profits caused the long delay in putting the scheme through, but to end it all, Mr. Pleasants, founder of the Pleasants Female Orphanage, came to the rescue and built, at a cost of £14,000, the Stove Tenter House. As I said, the first stone was laid on the 13th April, 1814, and it was opened for work on the 20th October, 1815, arranged as a three-storied building. On the ground floor were four furnaces, or stoves, from which issued large metal tubes; by means of these the whole building was heated, as the flooring of each storey was formed by iron bars. Along these floors were the tenters on machinery by which the cloth was stretched to any breadth or degree of tension. The upper storey was given to the drying of chains of woollen warps before being woven, requiring less heat.
The weavers paid 2s. 6d for each piece of finished cloth, and these sums were spent on the purchase of coal, etc.; Mr. Pleasants derived no profits, regarding it as a charitable purpose. In order that the weavers should not lack the “urge to work” mottoes were displayed over the fire-places intended to attract their attention, such as, “The Sluggard shall come to Want,” “Industry is the Weaver’s Shield,” “The hand of the Diligent maketh rich,” and other inspiring mottoes intended to give the impression that “to work is but a pleasure” ; certainly such was the case, for idleness disappeared and weavers ceased to be confined in the prisons for small debts ; the public also gained, for the material was received in better condition, consequently larger quantities were used, and altogether the motto “Industry is the Weaver’s Shield” was never more true than when St. Joseph’s Refuge was the Stove Tenter House.
ROSEMARY LANE AND IT’S ALMS-HOUSES.
Passing down this short, narrow lane it is hard to realise by its careworn appearance that such matter of historic interest attaches to it, which i propose to describe as briefly as my limited knowledge of the lane will allow me. In 1403 it was styled in a lease as “Lovestokes Lane” which was subsequently changed to “Longstick Lane” and “Woodstock Lane”; in the seventeenth century it became known as now, Rosemary Lane. We learn from Gilbert that on the western side of Rosemary Lane was a large building for a considerable period used as a Roman Catholic chapel of the parishes of SS. Michael and John, which in the reign of Charles I was placed under the care of Fr. Coyle, who was succeeded in 1628 by Fr. Brangan. A Government report states that “There is one Mass-House in St. Michaels Parish which stands at the side of Mr. George Taylors house; it is partly within the walls ; the recusants of that parish, and of the parishes adjoining resort thither commonly; the priest that saith Mass there, and is commonly called the priest of the parish, is named Patrick Brangan. The parishioners of St.Johns Parish that are Recusants frequent the above named Mass-House, and have the same man for their priest.” This reference is, of course, to the period known as the Penal Times. In the Franciscan Convent, Merchants’ Quay, the Rev. Fr. Jerome was kind enough to show me a Register dealing with the Orphanage of St. Bonaventure, which was situated in Rosemary Lane, having been founded in 1817 by Rev. J. B. Keane. In 1820 the Orphanage became more generally known as St. Bonaventure’s Charitable Institution, and depended for its maintenance on an Annual Charity Sermon ; on the occasion of the charity sermon the orphans occupied the front seats in the church, and so interested the charitable public. Reference is made to the fact that Dr. Geoghegan, Bishop of Adelaide, Australia, was received into the Institution in 1836 ; the President of the Institution at this time, 1836, was Fr. John Murphy, and the Vice-Presidents were Frs. P. B. Geoghegan and J. McNally. Rosemary Lane also accommodated the Widows’ House of the parish of St. John; now it accommodates little but ruins.
ASYLUM FOR AGED FEMALES, 1857.
Founded by Alderman Richard Atkinson, who is described in the Directories as a “Silk Throwster,” this asylum is very well managed; the house is at 21 New Street, and is for the reception of “Widows or Single Women” of the age of 60 or upwards, who shall have, or be guaranteed in writing, a weekly income of not less than six shillings during residence in the Asylum, etc.; the endowment for this Asylum is fairly considerable, most of which is invested in Railway Debenture Stock; the Trustees of this Asylum are the ground landlords of Griffith Barracks, late Wellington Barracks, from which an income of £64 19s. 10d. is derived annually.
ALMS-HOUSE OF THE PARISH OF ST. NICHOLAS WITHOUT.
This house is situated on the Coombe, and was opened about 65 years ago; the house is a parochial charge and accordingly is under the care of “the Rector and Churchwardens;” there are 10 widows in this building, which was formerly a school.
And now, fearing that the patience of my listeners will soon be exhausted with such loose-fitting accounts of the various alms- houses, 1 finish up by giving a number of others that have ceased to exist; the old house on Arbour Hill with the tablet “St. Paul’s Widows’ House, 1796” has closed its doors as such since November, 1937 ; the last two inmates were removed to different places ; one of the places was a cemetery, the other an alms-house ; and so St. Paul’s, that at one time accommodated 29 widows, has ceased to accommodate. The Alms-hoUse of the parish of St. Mark, in Mark Street, has also closed its doors, and the house has become, of all things, a lodging-house for men; this particular house was in use in 1798 as a Public Soup Shop, being one of a number opened by order of the Government, the Governors of the House of Industry being the managing-centre. St. Werburgh’s Alms-house for Widows was in Derby Square, but has long since gone out of existence, as has that of St. Bride’s, which being situated in Great Ship Street was demolished in 1903 to make way for the erection of a school. I believe it then took up a new position, this time in Chancery Lane; a large house still standing in that lane was pointed out to me as being it. The Catholic Widows’ House in Clarke’s Court, Ship Street, has shared the fate of most of the houses in that street, demolished, but at one time accommodated 28 widows.
And now, as everything must come to an end, I shall finish this paper, in which I have tried to deal in an interesting way with a branch of Dublin’s charitable work which is not too generally known, and at the same time to arouse respect for the memory of those good persons who have helped to case the path of a class who are always with us, namely, THE POOR.