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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 24 October, 2019
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"The street was my playground": A journey back to the tenement days

Phyllis Radburn, who lived on Henrietta St, was able to take a trip back to her former home thanks to Dublin City Council.

Henrietta St
Henrietta St
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

STANDING TALL IN the centre of Dublin city are the houses of Henrietta St, once grand Georgian buildings which tell a tale of a changing Ireland.

Earlier this week, Phyliss Radburn (84) stood in the front room of 14 Henrietta St, her dusky scarf highlighting her lightly pinked cheeks, bright from the cold. The room was bare, the walls pockmarked and scarred, the large fire grate empty.

Radburn, however, radiated warmth and excitement. It was here, in this bare room with its clattering echo, where she lived for more than a decade as a child, and her return – arranged by family members with the help of Dublin City Council – had come as a surprise.

She had lived at 14 Henrietta St from the age of two to 13, when the family moved to Whitehall.

In the days approaching her visit back to the room she had once shared with her parents and sister, she was unable to sleep due to the anticipation.

Radburn, who now lives in the UK, recalled the layout of her former home for TheJournal.ie:

(Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube)

Exploring the rest of the house, which is under the ownership of Dublin City Council, were members of Radburn’s family, including her sister, Rose Bergin (along with husband Francis, daughter Jane and her husband Fergal Donnelly) who was born after the family moved from Henrietta St. Radburn was 13 when they moved to Whitehall.

Also there were Radburn’s daughters Elaine Radburn and June Warfield, her grandchildren Laragh Lever and Ciaran Warfield, and great-grandchildren Riain and Odhran.

“The street was my playground”

image

Henrietta St. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Henrietta St once was home to hundreds of people, all occupying the former houses of well-off families  – mainly connected to the law profession, given Kings Inns’ location at the top of the street – who abandoned their large dwellings when they began to move to the suburbs at the turn of the 19th century.

By the 1880s, 14 Henrietta St had become a tenement.

As the owners of the homes left, and the economy experienced a downturn, the Georgian buildings were turned into tenements, with large families occupying single rooms. Slum landlords moved in and the palatial mansions became home to the poor.

Radburn lived with her family at 14 Henrietta St in the 1930s, while her sister lived on the other side of the road in the 1960s.

There is not a lot of amount of information available about the families that lived in Henrietta St, save some details in census records. DCC is trying to build a picture of life there throughout the years, and families like Radburn’s are helping to fill in the gaps. With Radburn’s daughter and son-in-law avid amateur historians, there is already lots of information to pass on to the council.

Life in the tenements was basic, but it was not easy. Disease was rife due to overcrowding, and the conditions in some of the homes were deplorable. In the 1890s, the first initiatives began to tackle tenement problems and create new homes for people, and the 1913 lockout only served to highlight the chronic issues that tenement life meant for people in poverty.

By 1960s Ireland, tenements were on their way out, with public housing schemes being created in order to replace them.

For children like Radburn, there was no other life to think about than the one they had, and she has fond memories of a childhood spent on Henrietta St.

“The street was my playground,” said Radburn. Here, she reminisced about some of the games that she and her friends played:

(Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube)

Radburn was able to make this journey back to her old home thanks to Charles Duggan, Heritage Officer at Dublin City Council, which recently held the Dublin Tenement Experience in 14 Henrietta St.

To see his observations on the secrets within the homes, click here.

VIDEO: The secrets of Dublin tenements>

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