I’m very grateful there are people in this world with more ‘get up and go’ than I have at times! My thanks to Will Peat, a friend, for organising a visit to the Iveagh Trust Museum Flat recently through booking. The flat is tiny, but it offers huge insight on a former Dublin.
The Iveagh Trust buildings, built by Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, were in some ways a monument in themselves to the philanthroy of the Guinness family. Built to house the working poor of Dublin, they were remarkably ahead of their time when contrasted for example with the Foley Street Corporation Buildings and other such Dublin Corporation dwellings also constructed in the early 1900’s.
As Andrew Kincaid noted in his study Postcolonial Dublin: imperial legacies and the built environment: “In 1890, on the back of the Dublin Improvement Act of 1889, a group of Protestant and Unionist businessmen and politicians formed the Guinness, later the Iveagh, Trust.” Edward Cecil Guinness outlined his belief that the Iveagh Trust would strive for “the amelioration of the condition of the poorer of the working classes.”
The area where the Iveagh Trust buildings stand now was once among the worst slums in the city. It’s a great irony in Dublin’s history that right next to the fortified home of political power in Ireland, Dublin Castle, one found many of the poorest Dubliners. The homes Guinness constructed, simple two or three bedroom tenements, were a million miles removed from what stood there before.
While the Iveagh Trust flats would be modernised in time, the Trust have maintained one small flat for museum purposes. Number 3B has changed little in the century since the opening of the buildings, and today it serves as a sort of Dublin time capsule. Stepping into it, you get a great social insight into a Dublin long gone.
This was home to Nellie Molloy, who passed in 2002 at the very impressive age of 95. She’d lived through major changes in Irish society, and the area around the building saw much change. In the short-time we spend in the apartment, our guide Liam tells us some great small details about Nellie, such as the fact she was a Trade Union shop steward in her time, and we learn something of the man who gazes over the small apartment, Sgt. Major Henry John Molloy, a veteran of the Boer War and the Great War. Below the picture of the Sgt. Major, a piano sits proudly, testament to the fact Nellie enjoyed hosting guests in her small flat. Liam tells us that he knew Nellie to talk to, and that she was a treasure trove of information on Dublin’s past.
The two small bedrooms contain much religious iconography, but it’s the small details that make this apartment. Opening one drawer, we see modest purses and scarves. It’s evidently clear Nellie took great pride in her home and what she had, and everything is neatly arranged. While the apartment is small, one can see how around a dozen could comfortably sit in its front room. Looking at the piano, you don’t doubt that on occasion, a dozen did!
It’s a great insight into a Dublin that has arguably long passed. With the Eucharistic Congress this year for example likely to be more of a whisper than a bang, the extent of the religious devotion in the house is a look at a different time. I was reminded of the photos of children constructing religious shrines in the Dublin tenements in 1932.
The Iveagh Trust buildings warrant exploration from any Dubliner. Walk around them, and enjoy the architecture and detail. The detail even in the letters above the entrances to each block is unique in every case, and we wandered throughout the streets and courtyards of the blocks exploring a part of Dublin that deserves your attention.