bike tours dublin ireland

14 Henrietta Street

Henrietta Street is the oldest Georgian Street in Dublin. It was laid out by Luke Gardiner in the 1740s and he built numbers 13, 14 and 15. He was Vice Treasurer of Ireland, a Member of Parliament and a Private Banker. His house is the large white building out the window on the left and is now a Daughters of Charity convent. 

The street was named after Henrietta Somerset, wife of the 2nd Duke of Grafton and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to encourage high society to move here. 

It was designed as an enclave for the rich and famous elite of the Anglo Irish Aristocracy and it’s residents included MPs, Viscounts and C of I Bishops and was known colloquially as ‘Primates Row’.

Another resident was Nathaniel Clements who designed his own house at number 7 and lived there for years in what he called ‘Parisian Luxury’!. He was appointed ‘Park Ranger’ of the Phoenix Park and designed and built a house in the Park in 1751 that eventually became the Viceregal Lodge and then Aras an Uachtarian. 

This house was originally home to Richard Lord Viscount Molesworth, his wife Mary Jane and their two daughters. The house is 6 times larger than the average Irish family home of today at 10,000 sq ft.

The Anglo Irish Aristocracy lived on large estates in the country but it the winter months they would close up their great houses and move to Dublin for the Parliamentary season as most of them were also MP s.

This season was accompanied by a great series of parties and balls that took place in Dublin Castle and the townhouses of the Aristocracy.

Life remained pretty much the same until the end of the 18c and the Rebellion of 1798 led by the United Irishmen. This led the British to force through the closure of the Irish Parliament in 1801 in the ‘Act of Union’.

The parliament is situated in the BOI building on College Green and it is still possible to visit the original House of Lords there. After the act of Union the majority of the Irish Aristocracy closed up their townhouses for good and left Ireland and moved to London.

The great townhouses now changed use as solicitors and barristers moved in due to it’s proximity to the King’s Inn at the top of the street. The King’s Inn is has trained barristers since 1541 and the building was designed by and built by James Gandon. The grounds are the site of the famous ‘Hungry Tree’.

After the Aristocracy left Ireland many of their great country estates went bankrupt and the house became the ‘Encumbered Estates Court’ to deal with this. In 1840 alone 50 country estates went bankrupt.

In 1860s the house changed use again when it became home to the Dublin Militia aka the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and their families. This was the first time the house changed from a single family house to a multi family house.

This did not please the other residents of the street and they petitioned the government to move the militia out. They succeeded and the militia were moved to the Linenhall Barracks which was at the back of the gardens and which no longer exits.

Dublin and Henrietta street further deteriorated over the years and eventually in 1877 the house was bought by a property developer called Thomas Vance at a knock down price. In the years following an ‘Gorta Mor’ or the Great famine of the 1850s there was mass starvation in the countryside. Up to 2 million people died of starvation and another 2 million emigrated. 

Another 30,000 people moved to Dublin and put a huge strain on accommodation in the City. He immediately set about breaking up the large rooms into 2, 3 and 4 room flats. The internal walls of the flats only came up to the top of the doors and there was no running water.

Gas lighting and heat were added later. He put ads in the newspapers offering newly painted and papered flats with indoor toilets. There was one indoor toiled and two outdoor toilets for the whole house. The Grand Staircase was removed and another flat was built in the new space. 

Another flat was built in the front hallway where the reception desk is low located and housed the 13 members of the Brannigan family. The staircase was sold along with the grand fireplaces.

This room housed the Connollys and their 15 children in the 1950s. There were about 80 people living in the house in the 1880s, rising to about 100 in 1911 and 1000 people in the whole street. It remained a tenement until 1974 when the last 3 families moved out.

The room we are now in is part of the ‘Piano Nobile’, an architectural term from the Renaissance and was one of a series of three public rooms which were accessed by a grand staircase that only came to this floor. 

The family and servants used the 96 step back stairs to access the rest of the house. The plaster frieze at the top of the walls gives you an idea of the function of the room with it’s musical instruments, including lyres and flutes. This room was where music, singing and dancing took place. We will now proceed in to the second of the public rooms.


This is the second of the public room on this floor, the function of these public rooms was flexible and this room probably functioned as the dining room. The room originally had wooden paneling on the walls which changed to rich damask wallpaper in later years.

The original fireplace would probably have been in marble and very ornate. The portraits on the wall are of Lord Molesworth and his wife Lady Mary Jane. Mary Jane was only 15 at the time of her marriage to Richard who was 40 years older than her. 

They had two daughters together. Lord Molesworth is reported to have saved the Duke of Marlborough in the Spanish War of Succession in 1706 by giving up his horse after the Duke fell from his.

He is said to always have felt he never received his due recognition for this act and you will notice him pointing at a horse in the portrait. We are now going to watch a video of the house in it’s Georgian heyday. 

Note the painting of the lady sitting by the fire with a screen in front of her face. I will explain the relevance of this when we move to the next room.


This room also served different functions but was probably the bedroom of Lady Mary. Mary had both of their children in this room. Childbirth in the 18th c was the Great Leveler. It was extremely dangerous for women regardless of their social status with large amounts of women and children dying.

The bed is a fine example of 18th C Irish Rococo in mahogany work by Dublin woodworker John Kelly and was made for Bartholomew Mosse, founding Master of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital in 1748, the oldest maternity in the world. Unusually for the time Mosse was a also male midwife. 

Mosse was appalled by the conditions and mortality faced by expectant mothers in Dublin and his goal was to train a midwife for every county in Ireland. He was an incredible fundraiser and used his connections in society to fund his endeavors.

The family crest of the Moss’s is the mythical creature the Griffon. A griffon has the head of an eagle and the feet of a lion. The eagle’s head is depicted in the coat of arms on the headboard and the lion’s feet are the actual feet of the bed.

The whole bed can be disassembled very quickly and easily for transport as furniture always went with the family to their country estates and back to Dublin for the parliamentary season. Proto IKEA! If you look you will notice the long blank space under the coat of arms. 

This was because the mattress was made up of 3 separate mattresses, a straw under mattress, a horsehair mattress and a feather mattress on top. The whole think sat on top of a cat’s cradle of ropes. 

Over time the ropes would stretch and the mattress sag and become uncomfortable. The ropes had to be regurlaly retightened and this where we get the expression, ‘Sleep tight”. 18C beds were quite short, not because people were particularly short but because people slept in a semi-upright position. People thought if they lay flat in bed they wouldn’t be able to breathe properly!

We will not listen to a poem called ‘This Bed’ by Dublin poet Paula Meehan on the subject of childbirth. Paula grew up in the tenements of Gardiner and Sean McDermott Street. Nr. 14 resident Lily Dowling appears in the presentation. Paula mentioned some beauty products from the 18c from the book: 

The Art of Beauty. Mercury for whitening the skin and lead were commonly added to beauty products. A lot of people had very badly marked skin from Smallpox and would mix these items with wax and apply them to the skin. You will remember the lady from that I mentioned in the previous room. 

She is sitting in front of a fire and she has a screen to protect her face from the fire other wise her make up would have melted and she would have ‘lost face’ or ‘her mask would have slipped’. 

In colder weather she might have cracked a smile. I am told that you could get 3 full sets of eyebrows from one mouse skin! We are now moving out of the Georgian period into the tenement period.


After the house was converted into flats in the late 19c the grand staircase was removed and 17 families of up to 100 people used the back stairs. The walls were painted in the colours, Red Raddle and Reckitts Blue, the colours synomomous with tenement life. 

Notice the painting doesn’t go too high, to save money. Red Raddle was an iron oxide paint that was used mainly on canal boats and is still used to mark sheep to this day. Reckitts Blue was produced by the British household goods manufacturer Reckitt & Sons. 

They also made such well known products as Blue Rinse, Brasso and Dettol. Both paints contained an amount of distemper which acted as a disinfectant. Notice the nails in the walls. These were used to hand washing lines. 

There was no lighting in the hallways so residents would dip pieces of newspaper in paraffin and use these to light their way or else carry a candle stub. When children were using the staircase at night they used to stamp their feet to scare off the ‘furry friends’, mice and their ‘older brothers’… On the half landing you will see where the one indoor toilet was situated. 

Water pressure was so low that that according to Peter Brannigan the toilet was only flushed twice a week. When the house was being renovated there were only a handful of spindles left on the whole stairs. We assume that the rest were used for firewood in particularly cold winters. Also not how the landlord protected his investment by putting spikes on the bannisters to stop children sliding down them.

There were 4 grades of tenement, class A to D. Nr 14 was class A but was still an ‘Open Door’ tenement. This meant that the front and back doors were never locked and in cold weather homeless people would come into the house and ‘Doss down’ in the halls. 

Most residents tolerated this and even gave the homeless cups of tea and some food. But as you can see by the graffiti here they weren’t always welcome. There were 3 classes of the poor, the poor, the destitute and the abject poor!

Between the one toilet on the landing, the drying washing, the homeless people, cooking of one pot meals on open fires and the carrying of slop buckets and chamber pots that this hallway must have had a smell that is hard to imagine today.

On a lighter note, when girls were going out on dates they were known to lick their fingers and rub them on the Red Raddle and rub it on their cheeks as a form of rouge!


The basement of Henrietta Street is 15ft below ground and was originally the kitchen and would have had a beaten earth floor. Here is the ‘tradesman’s entrance and outside you can see where the coal was stored. The coal store stretches halfway across the road and if you look at the pavements when you go outside you can see the original coal holes where the coal was poured in. 

Evicted tenants sometimes temporarily moved into the coal bunkers. It is cold and dark down here and only the poorest families lived here. Rents were half of what was paid above ground. That said Nr. 14 was never classified as a ‘slum’ house. In the early part of the 20th Century this was all a lot of families could afford.

For example in 1913 a man called Jim Larkin tried to organize day workers into his union. Dublin’s main employers proceeded to lock their staff out of their jobs causing huge hardship for Dublin’s poorest. 

After 7 or 8 months of bitter struggle the workers were forced to admit defeat and go back to work. Anyone who was known to have been active in the lockout was permanently blacklisted. This was the chief reason that so many Dublin men joined the British army at this time.

Socialist politician and 1916 leader, James Connolly called it ‘Conscription by starvation’. Rosie Hackett was a resident of Nr 14 and was active in the Lockout. The newest bridge over the Liffey was recently named after her. About 25% of the population of Dublin lived in tenements in the early 20th Century and life was precarious with no social safety net like the dole and eviction always a possibility.

This basement was the home of the Brannigan family and their children. Peter Brannigan who is now 80 years old was born in this corner in 1939 and their were people looking in the window when his mother was giving birth. His mother told him that if he had not been born in the Summer he probably would not have survived as child mortality rates were so high. When he was one year old his family moved into a smaller flat where the entrance to Nr. 14 is now.

The flat is smaller but was a much healthier place to live. In the corner you see the bed which was known as a ‘palliasse’ from the Latin for straw. The mattress is a straw filled sack. Sheets were sometimes made from sewn together flour sacks. Most people used army Great Coats for blankets and under the bed you will see a chamber pot, or a ‘gizunder’ in tenement slang. Light came from candles or paraffin oil lamps.

There was little or no furniture and people used tea chests for tables. Cheap prints of ‘Holy Pictures’ would adorn the walls. Cooking was on an open range so tended to be one pot stews, like Coddle, or a Blind stew which had no meat. Occasionally bacon or herring were served. Potatoes and cups of tea were a stable and bread and jam were a treat.

In 1913 a tenement house in Church Street collapsed without warning killing 7 people. This led to 2 housing enquiries which highlighted what everyone knew, the dire conditions in which a quarter of Dubliners lived. The photographer John Cook was commissioned to take photographs of tenement conditions and his photographs now offer us a rare insight into conditions in the early 20th century. 

Due to the tumultuous events of the 20th Century, including the Lockout, WWI, The War of Independence and the Civil War housing in Dublin slipped further down the agenda. We can now see some of John Cook’s photographs.


This room was not partitioned and was home to the Horrigan Family in the 1950s and was never partitioned. You can see how the residents were starting to improve their dwellings, which means there must have been a small amount of disposable income. 

The fireplace is in the 1930s Art Deco style and the wallpaper is copied from an original fragment. Above the door you can see a Child Of Prague. These statures were very popular in Dublin and it was said if you buried the statue in the garden the night before a wedding it would not rain on the day. Boys used these statues for slingshot practice, which is why there are so many headless ones around to this day!

Gas was also installed in the 1940s and you can see from where the pipes enter the room they always took the shortest route for the least expense. There was still no piped water available. People took weekly baths in the Ivy and Tara Street Baths and it cost 6d. 

People also took their washing there sometimes by pram. Street traders also used prams to transport and sell their goods. To this day you can see street traders around the Mary St / Capel St area that have bought fruit in the Fruit Market and are selling it out of prams.

We are now going to hear from Peter Brannigan who was born in the Basement in 1939 being interview by local schoolchildren from Collaiste Mhuire in Parnell Sq about childhood and play in tenement Dublin. We are now going to move out of tenement Dublin into the newly built suburbs of the mid 20 century.


This room Tells the story of the move from the tenements to the newly built suburbs. Around the walls we can see models of the type of housing the tenement families moved into in the suburbs of Cabra, Kimmage, Coolock etc. We can see two story semi-detached houses and artisan cottages. 

The Guinness family trust, the Ivy Trust also build purpose build flats around the Liberties. When Kathleen Behan, mother of Brendan and Domenic, moved into her new semi-d from the tenements it took her a couple of weeks to figure out that there was not another family living upstairs! Not everyone who moved out to the suburbs were happy and it is reported that some people actually moved back into the tenements!

We can see some stenciling on the walls that dates from the 18 century. The plasterwork on the walls shows us what years of whitewashing have done to the moulding and contrasts with the beautiful detail of the original. Wee also have a 1970s Clifford fireplace in this room. If you look at the floor you can see the lines that show how the room was partitioned in 1877. 

The partitioning only went up to the height of the doors. This let light and air into the back rooms which otherwise would have been in darkness. Two of the doors were also nailed shut and the only access was to the hall. This flat was home to the Calligan family of 16 and believe it or not we know from the 1901 census that they even had a lodger. Lodgers were taken in to help pay the rent and ideally they were night shift workers so they could use the beds during the day!

If you look out the window where the shared gardens once stood you will see an example of 1930s flats designed and built by Dublin City public architect Herbert Simms. We will here from Simms in our presentation now.


This is a recreation of the Dowling family flat of the 1950s. The Downlings lived here with their 3 children Lilly and Peter. Another brother George died of TB as a child. TB was one of the biggest causes of death in early 20c Dublin. Mrs Downing gave music lessons and also worked as a seamstress. 

Lily helped decorate the room and it is full of family photos and mementoes. The doll was given to Lily as a child by her uncle after her father died. The wallpaper is reproduced from a sample on the wall and the Lino was reproduced from a sample that we have here.

Visit 14 Henrietta Street

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