The Domestic World

The world of the home in 1904 was one of contrasts. On the one hand, there were the comfortable and often opulent homes of the aristocracy and the rising middle-classes; on the other hand the privation and filth of the slum tenements which filled the once gracious Georgian houses of the cities.

Between these two extremes lay a broad range of domestic environments. These included the homes of the comfortable tenant farmer, the skilled artisan living in one of the new purpose-built dwellings, and, most particularly in Dublin, the two and three-storey red-brick houses, built by speculators all over the city and throughout the prosperous townships of Rathmines and Pembroke.

The lives led by the people in these houses were as different as their physical environments, but all had in common the fact that a great deal of physical labour was required for every single domestic task. The difference between the economic levels was that in the case of the rich, they paid other people to do the work.

While by 1904, many urban dwellings had running water and at least an outside toilet, in most rural areas water had to fetched from a local pump or well and plumbing was rudimentary. Heating could be merely an open fire or in the more prosperous households, could consist of a range with radiators working off it. Food was cooked at an open fire or on a stove, and in many cases any hot water required would have had to be heated in the same way, so that any washing done, whether it was of clothes or people, was a major chore. Laundry, with no electric aids, was strenuous physical work; in 1904 it was agreed that the washerwomen in the North Dublin Union should be given extra food rations on laundry day because of the heavy nature of the work. Advertisements for laundry services are very common in the newspapers and give an indication of the importance of the service and the employment it provided. In Joyce's story Clay, the main character Maria works in one such laundry.

Domestic service, a major employer for those who inhabited Dublin city, required physical strength and stamina. The three and four storey houses of the wealthy in the Rathmines and Pembroke townships would have presented a formidable workout for those maids engaged in carrying the coals to the fireplaces on the various levels, beating rugs and carpets and keeping the linen in order. Those no longer able to keep up the pace, most particularly older women, often ended their days in the North or South Dublin Unions, the workhouses which were the last resort of the destitute of Dublin.

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