Public and Private Health

Public health was a major issue of public concern in 1904. Local authorities had primary responsibility in terms of sanitation issues and given the fact that horses were still used as the main form of transport, even just keeping the streets clean of their refuse must have been a gargantuan task.

Diseases such as smallpox and measles could still kill in 1904, and there were numerous cases of smallpox reported in the Irish Times during that year. Sexually transmitted diseases, given that Dublin had a large military presence and an internationally famous red light district in "Monto" were endemic and there was a specific hospital - the Lock Hospital - for these complaints. The demolition of the original Monto - Montgomery Street - was being undertaken by the Corporation in 1904, but their efforts seem to have had little effect on the activities in the area of the re-named Foley Street. Medical students - including Joyce - were notorious frequenters of the Monto houses, and Joyce's fellow-student, Oliver St John Gogarty, penned an infamous lyric about this aspect of Dublin life. Purportedly praising the soldiers returned from the Boer War, it was published in all innocence in a society paper. It took only moments for the wags of Dublin to realise that the verse was an anagram, and the coded message made up of the first letter of each line read "The Whores Will Be Busy."

The mortality rate in Dublin was consistently higher than that of other comparable cities in Britain, as the weekly tables in the Irish Times show. Overcrowding (sometimes up to seventy individuals in a three-storey Georgian House) and the poor sanitary conditions in the tenements resulted in an environment rife for the spread of disease.Constant efforts were made by both Dublin Corporation and private philanthropists to overcome these conditions by clearing and rebuilding housing blackspots, but the problem was so great that their attempts could not keep pace with it.

In terms of public hygiene, the Corporation established Bath Houses, notably at Tara Street. Men used the facilities of these Bath Houses to a much greater extent than women, although the facilities at Tara Street included a special Ritual Bath for Hebrew Women. Leopold Bloom partakes of a public bath in the Lotus Eaters section of Ulysses.

Health was closely connected with diet and diet varied with class. It was also noted that those from a country background tended to be healthier, perhaps partly because their diet tended to include more milk, butter and meat. The urban diet was confined to a large degree to bread and tea, with perhaps an occasional herring or some bacon. Shellfish were also eaten but could cause death if infected. Of major concern was the "adulteration" of milk by dairies, with the Sanitary Committee of Dublin Corporation carrying out frequent tests on the city dairies.

Infected milk was also a major factor in the spread of Tuberculosis, although the campaign to eradicate T.B. did not begin to gain real momentum until after 1904 and the Tuberculosis Prevention Act of 1908.

Dublin City Public Libraries

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