Mrs Mack

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2008), Volume 16

Nighttown as depicted in contemporary style in Joseph Strick’s 1967 film Ulysses. Stephan Dedalus (Maurice Roeves) arrives at Bella Cohen’s brothel. (Irish Film Archive of the Irish Film Institute)

Nighttown as depicted in contemporary style in Joseph Strick’s 1967 film Ulysses. Stephan Dedalus (Maurice Roeves) arrives at Bella Cohen’s brothel. (Irish Film Archive of the Irish Film Institute)

The infamous Mrs Mack, who appears in the ‘Nighttown’ episode of Ulysses, kept a brothel at 85 Lower Tyrone Street in the heart of the red-light (Monto) district of Dublin. She was so well known that the area was often referred to as ‘Macktown’. The 1901 census records that Mack had five ‘lodgers’, ranging in age from 21 to 27, listed as dressmaker, housekeeper, waitress, milliner and lace-maker. Also listed was a servant and a widow aged 32, who probably looked after the women. The ‘lodgers’ were all literate and unmarried; two were from England, while the rest came from outside Dublin. Eliza Mack herself was 50 at this time, a widow who had been born in Cork City. She was described by Oliver St John Gogarty as having ‘a brick-red face, on which avarice was written like a hieroglyphic, and a laugh like a guffaw in hell’.

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