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Early 20th century Dublin Slums

By 1900, the population of Dublin was over 400,000 and it was often described as “the second city of the British Empire”. However, this growth in population also brought an increased level of poverty. The city was infamous for its large number of slums and tenements: almost 26,000 families lived in 5,000 tenements. Of the 5,000, over 1,500 had been condemned as being unfit for human habitation. Over 20,000 families lived in a single room, whilst another 5,000 had only two rooms.

In 1901, the infant mortality rate in Dublin was 168 deaths per 1000 babies born, whilst in the rest of Ireland it was 101 per 1000 births. Even in London the infant mortality rate was better: 148 per 1000 births. The other factor in Dublin’s high death rate was tuberculosis. The death rate from tuberculosis was 50% higher in Ireland than it was in England and Scotland, and the vast majority of these deaths occurred in poor families, especially those living in a single room.

By 1913, the situation had declined further; one third of Dublin’s population lived in the slums, 30,000 families lived in 15,000 tenements. Every year, an estimated 4 million pledges were taken at pawnbrokers. Poverty in Dublin was maintained by the lack of employment opportunities for unskilled workers. Before the creation of trade unions in Ireland, unskilled workers lacked representation and because there were many more workers than jobs, the unskilled workers often had to compete with one another for work every day. The job usually went to the worker who agreed to work for the lowest wage.