BENBURB STREET – FEBRUARY 2022
Benburb Street runs parallel with the River Liffey from Queen Street to Parkgate Street, running along the southern side of Collins Barracks. The LUAS red line runs along the street.
The street was originally named as Barrack Street as it was close to the former Royal Barracks. The section closest to Queen Street was known as Tighe Street, but previously known as the Gravel Walk up to circa 1780. Both streets were amalgamated and renamed Benburb Street in 1890. It was named for the Battle of Benburb in County Armagh in 1646.
Historically, the street was associated with sex work due to its proximity to Collins Barracks. This association continued up until the late 1990s.
The housing scheme in Benburb street was the first housing scheme project undertaken by the Artisans and Dwelling Committee of Dublin Corporation in 1884. In 1880, the Dublin Corporation sanitary office took a visit to Benburb street and observed the ‘rotten state’ of the houses along this area. The buildings were decayed, floors were saturated, roofs were beyond repair, and the soil was soaked with foul matter. These houses were occupied by the working-class, and according to the sanitary officer’s report, the working-class deserved better housing, as they were right beside factories such as Courtney and Stephens’ Irons Works. The officer believed that with a suitable range of housing and combination of small shops, this would benefit the whole community. Due to this report, it was agreed by the Dublin Corporation that a housing scheme project would take place in Benburb street in 1884. Together, the corporation and the city architect at the time, Daniel Freeman would work on the housing scheme. He decided to adopt a previous design by an engineer known as Arthur Dudgeon. Dudgeon designed the Benburb street housing scheme. He was a civil engineer to the Dublin Artisans Dwelling Company (DADC) Plunkett Street Scheme and had a lot of experience from visiting working-class housing schemes in Glasgow and London. Dudgeon did a report in 1883, designing this scheme.
There were two spaces available in Benburb street to build houses, an area with a frontage of 240 feet, and another with a frontage of 160. Dudgeon suggested two blocks of dwellings in Benburb and Tighe street. These blocks were to be three to four storeys in height, with the ground floor being used as shops, where there would be a great demand. Floors and roofs were fire-proof for security, but also for longer stability. The people living in these houses were provided with staircases up to the galleries on each floor, providing individual access to the tenements. Dudgeon was against the idea of basements as he didn’t like their tendency to flood. Dudgeon liked the idea of building taller houses. He believed that people liked living in taller buildings, as they had a better access to clean air. Freeman also made many of the rooms bigger than the ones that Dudgeon visited in the UK, as well as improving sanitary conditions in the houses. Freeman proposed that all water supply and dust shoot were provided on the outside of the walls of the houses, and were easily attainable from all blocks.This also meant that if there were sanitary problems, there wouldn’t be any foul air or other components getting into the houses. The dwellings weren’t just accommodating families, but also single women and widows, and single men. The men’s lodging house contained a wash house, two recycling baths, 15 shops, 66 double rooms, and 50 single rooms. The double room cost 6d a week, while the single room cost between 1s. 6d. and 2s. Overall, it was estimated that this scheme would make £30 profit each year. However, this was only proposed and when it was sent to the Dublin Corporation, it was sent back to the Artisans Dwelling Committee and they were told to reconsider. The problem was that Freeman who was the architect planned his scheme for 600 people which would cost £20,000, while Dudgeon’s scheme planned for 708 people which would cost £25,000.This meant that Freeman had to make changes to increase accommodation. He offered to reduce the number of shops and double rooms, but increase the number of single rooms. Although there would now be an annual loss of £30, the committee stated that further changes would be made to cover for this loss.
Overall, the final outcome of the housing scheme was steady. 144 tenements were built, which were four-storey blocks containing single, double and three-roomed units. 5 of the tenements were shops on the ground floor, which provided food and other goods. These shops cost 10s. per week. The shops were a far more lucrative return for the corporation, rather than the rooms which ranged between 1s 6d and 5s. One of the blocks located along Eilis street contained 1 large shop and 43 dwellings which had one or two rooms, and was also accompanied by a men’s lodging house. A Lodging house for women was also built, with 16 beds and costing 4d. per night. Cooking facilities were provided in the lodging house and there was a storage area to store the food, but for a cost. Permanent lodgers were given more leeway than people who were staying there for a fixed amount of time. All lodgers had to be out of the building by 10am, and apart from the permanent lodgers, weren’t allowed back into the building until 6pm. Permanent lodgers were allowed to return to the building to cook their dinner. Although the standard of housing improved massively, there was still sanitary problems within the housing scheme. There were 9 deaths by the end of 1891. Many of the people died due to health issues, for example gastric fever, bronchitis and congestion of the lungs. After a sanitary inspection, the health officer was unimpressed. He came to the conclusion that many hallways were very dirty, many sinks and water-closets needed repair, while in other sinks there was a conveyance of refuse-water. Water Closets were also an issue. In some flats, up to nine families were using the same water closets, which was accommodated to just five families.
Many houses and flats on Benburb street are still being redeveloped today. Tuath Housing Association is responsible for this redevelopment, Tuath Housing planned to build 22 new flats on Eilis court, which included six one-bed apartments and 13 two-bed apartments. It was planned to knock down a four-storey complex which was built in the 1880s, due to a devastating fire in 2005. Tenants were to be able to move in to the new flats by the end of 2020. Overall, this redevelopment would cost around 6 million euro.
A modest number of architecturally notable buildings remain on Benburb Street. One example is 79 Queen Street at the junction with Benburb Street, the former Dice Bar. Built as a commercial building, it has a date stone of 1770, but the surviving building dates from approximately 1860 and displays a typical Victorian style. At the corner of Benburb Street and Blackhall Place, there is a small unaltered terrace of two story houses with shops built circa 1870.