The Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, Blogging Irish History, Uncategorized

Henrietta st tenement experienceWhile on the subject of re-enactments, we might as well mention one with a particular relevance to our current special issue on the 1913 Lockout, in which Tony Canavan wrote a preliminary account of the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout (you can read his review, taken from the current issue, elsewhere on the website). Having opened for business at the start of July, we decided to see it in action. It did not disappoint.

The ‘experience’ is based, appropriately enough, in 14 Henrietta Street; itself once a tenement. Admission is €5.50 when booked online (the comprehensive and fascinating website is a treasure trove of material in itself). The admission fee includes some impressively produced literature that fleshes out the history of the street (including an excellent reproduction of the relevent sections of John Rocque’s stunning 1756 map of Dublin), and the tour itself lasts about 45 minutes.

It begins with an audio-visual display outlining the social history of Dublin circa 1913 and giving an introduction to tenement life and the Lockout. The audience are then exposed to (and become involved in) a trilogy of dramatised scenes of life in tenement Dublin in the midst of the Lockout, magnificently choreographed and acted by Anu Productions, who have a very impressive track record with productions of this nature. Without giving too much away, these subtle and striking vignettes cover a vast array of issues relating to the social life of the tenements and the wider labour politics of the time, in a manner that is never didactic. Given the intimacy of the surroundings, the experience has an uncomfortable immediacy; the audience on a warm weekday morning was perhaps a dozen people, which was enough to fill the rooms in which they took place, and the actors themselves were more than willing to interact with their audience in surprising ways. ‘Experience’ is the correct word for what is being hosted in 14 Henrietta Street, and it is a compelling experience at that. It is running in its current venue until the end of August, and for anyone interested in the history of tenement Dublin – or any aspect of Dublin – this is essential viewing. Over a quarter of Dublin’s population lived in slums of this kind in 1913, and this is an overdue and powerful attempt to rescue them from, as E.P. Thompson put it elsewhere, ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.

The Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout runs until 31 August 2013: http://dublintenementexperience.com/

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