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Friday 20 October 2017

'Squalid' tenement life to be remembered in museum

Heritage officer Charles Duggan at the property
Heritage officer Charles Duggan at the property

After years of planning and heated debate, the Tenement Museum Dublin is finally set to open in October.

Extensive work has been done to restore and repair 14 Henrietta Street, a once-impressive townhouse built in 1748.

In 1882, the Georgian house was turned into an improvised tenement and remained as such until the 1970s. It then lay derelict for nearly 40 years.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht then announced a grant of €1.5m for a museum at the house.

However, a row threatened after Dublin City Council wanted to name the building Townhouse Museum.

Former minister of state Aodhan O Riordain demanded that it be called Tenement Museum instead to reflect its actual purpose.

He went so far as to say he would not support funding if it was rebranded.

"Someone from the council wanted the museum to reflect the grandiose living quarters of the Georgian family who lived there," he said.

Slums

"I argued that this completely missed the point. It was so important to have the word 'tenement' in its title to reflect the squalid conditions of the many slums in Dublin.

"It's very important to remember the history of tenement life because, to be honest, it wasn't that long ago."

In March last year the council finally agreed to the name Tenement Museum Dublin.

Seventeen families num- bering more than 100 people lived at number 14 at the time of the 1911 census.

The project reveals the story of tenement life amid cramped conditions, poverty and disease.

Those restoring the building have already encountered some remnants of what life was like there over the years.

Oyster shells found in the foundations, believed to be the lunch of those who built the house, sit alongside linoleum from the 1970s on the artefacts table.

The partition marks from the rooms can still be seen, and other indications on the walls show where pots and pans were hung in the small kitchens.

Many of the house's original features have been restored, including a grand staircase.

The paintwork has been analysed so that it could be replicated as closely as possible.

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