Lonely Planet Writer

Dublin’s tenement museum is set to open its doors on 300 years of the city's history

A former tenement house in Dublin city is set to open as a museum this month. No 14 Henrietta Street has had many incarnations – from a grand townhouse entertaining the cream of Georgian society in the 1750s, to housing over 100 people as a tenement building for close on 100 years until the 1970s; and now the house is set to open its doors as a museum, giving visitors insight into life in the house over three centuries.

The entrance hall juxtaposing the Georgian beginnings and the tenement dwelling. Image by Paul Tierney

The house has already scooped awards, recently winning Best Conservation/Restoration Project from RIAI Irish Architecture Awards. Over ten years in the works, the house was described by the jury as a “gift to the city of Dublin.” Lead architect Gráinne Shaffrey said the decade-long effort had been: “primarily about telling the story of a remarkable building in a remarkable street which has much wider resonance and meaning.”

Although there was major structural work carried out on the listed building, internal wall surfaces were largely intact particularly in the back hall and stairs where Reckitt’s Blue and Raddle Red, synonymous Dublin tenement paint colours, survived in the entrance hall, back hall and stairs.

The banisters and painted walls have been preserved  in the original colours. Image by Paul Tierney

Iseult Byrne, chief executive, Dublin City Council Culture Company explained to Lonely Planet News what visitors to the house can expect: “our tour guides, many of whom are local people or are avid social historians, accompany visitors through three floors of the house revealing many stories told through the walls of the house itself, its recreated immersive rooms, audio and film. As well as a glimpse into the house’s splendid beginnings, visitors will learn of the tenement era of the building’s history, from the 1880s to the 1970s.”

Mrs Dowling’s flat shows 1960s tenement living in 14 Henrietta Street. Image by Marc O’Sullivan

Through donated items, video and audio content, 14 Henrietta Street tells stories of the people who lived there and explains their daily routines, such as washing, working and playing; and how overcrowding affected them. Extraordinary details of the ordinary lives of its occupants are contained within the walls. Through video and audio content, visitors can listen to the voices of the residents, and hear the songs of the children who played here. They can read the hallway graffiti, and visit a faithful reconstruction of a 1960s tenement home.

The flat has been lovingly recreated from original items sourced from the time. Image by Marc O’Sullivan

14 Henrietta Street formally opens on 15 September, but the house has been open for a limited pre-launch over recent weeks for visitors. Iseult says that what has struck most is the emotional response of visitors to the house: “the connection visitors feel to the more recent stories that the house tells,” she explains, “we see how much the stories resonate for people with their own family stories of the last few generations. As visitors move through the house, they feel the worn treads of the back stairs and stone flags, see the gas feeds for cookers and lighting, and the remnants of fireplaces, wallpaper, graffiti and other hints and signs of the multiple generations and families that have passed through the house.”

“Former residents of the house and street donated important personal items, and many of these items are presented in a tenement apartment reconstructed “Mrs Dowling’s flat”, showing where and how a family lived from 1940-1975. The flat has been lovingly recreated from physical evidence found, such as the layout of partitions, scraps of wallpaper and linoleum; the memory of the family of their living arrangements, family interests and occupations, the furniture they owned and where it was positioned; and from items donated to us such as Mrs Dowling’s china cabinet and the china set it contained. So much of this part of the museum resonates with visitors who feel a familiarity with the space and many of the items contained.”