SJD8 #6: Jobs for the Boys, a Home for the Family? Multi-Generational Employment at the Inchicore Railway Works in 1911

This is the sixth in a series of blogs on ‘Spatial Justice in Dublin 8’ (SJD8 #6), as a contribution to Maynooth University Social Justice Week 2022.

Introduction

The establishment of the Railway Works (RW) at Inchicore in 1845 by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company (GS&WR) transformed Inchicore from a predominantly rural area, on the periphery of Dublin city, to a small industrial village central to the processes of commercialisation that would occur in post-Famine Ireland (see also Kearns, SJD8 #3 ‘The Urban Palimpsest of New Kilmainham 1911’). One of the major spatial transformations that occurred in Inchicore at this time was the construction of an extensive development of housing beside the RW by the GS&WR for its skilled workers and their families. Only a small proportion of company employees, however, lived in these high-quality houses.

This blogpost examines the extent of multi-generational male employment at the RW in the early twentieth century using 1911 Census data for families living in GS&WR housing. The first section provides an overview of the economic context of Dublin at this time. The second section provides an overview of the worker housing built by the GS&WR in Inchicore. The final section outlines the findings of the census data analysis. The analysis finds that in households where there were two generations of men in employment at the same time, in most cases both generations were likely employed by the GS&WR. This suggests that the sons and nephews of GS&WR employees may have had a relative advantage in gaining employment at the company. Indeed, there is some evidence that the labour market at the time was rather uncompetitive. As Ó Gráda (1994: 239) writes: ‘businessmen were in a good position to land railway and banking jobs for trusted clients and friends’. As families were at risk of eviction from these houses upon the retirement of the head of household from the GS&WR, the evidence below suggests that families may have negotiated this economic uncertainty by ensuring their tenancy rights through the employment of a son or nephew at the company.

As this blogpost is part of a series on ‘Spatial Justice in Dublin 8’, I venture some brief reflections on how we might interpret this history of worker housing in Inchicore from that perspective. The concept of spatial justice urges us to recognise how ‘access to social goods can depend upon where one lives or works’ (Kearns, 2014: 3). It is worth noting that Dublin had some of the worst housing conditions in Europe in the early twentieth century (Hennelly and McCarthy, 2022). The worker housing in Inchicore reflects the uneven benefits that processes of economic development and infrastructural investment delivered at this time. This housing was the privilege of a small number of workers with valuable (and relatively scarce) skills. After more than a century of economic development, Dublin now finds itself mired in a severe housing crisis that has profoundly unequal impacts across society. In opposition to the ideology of linear progress, the concept of spatial justice forces us to take seriously the profound inequalities and injustices that persist in the city today despite decades of economic growth. With apparently growing recognition that ‘the market’ will not provide good housing for all, the demands for de-commodified public housing are growing louder. The Community Action Tenants Union, for example, are campaigning for universal public housing in Ireland.

Economic Context

Late nineteenth-century Ireland witnessed a period of commercialisation and urbanisation that was facilitated by the railways. As one of the fastest growing economic regions of the United Kingdom (UK) from 1870 to 1911 (McLaughlin, 2017), the freight tonnage on Irish railways doubled between the early 1870s and the early 1910s (Ó Gráda, 1995). Dublin, unlike Belfast, did not have a large industrial sector; it was a commercial city (Smyth, 2017). Manufacturing activity was concentrated in stout (Guinness), biscuits (Jacob’s), and engineering (Crowe, 2017).

The development of the railway network in Ireland in the nineteenth century also created new demand for heavy engineering and iron work. Dublin, as the hub of these railway lines, became a centre for railway engineering activity. The railways, ‘the first major modern technological innovation to be widely and rapidly diffused in Ireland’ (Lee, 2006: 638), were central to the history of Inchicore, a history which reveals in part the uneven nature of development in Dublin at this time. By the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of engineering workers in Dublin were employed in railway workshops (Bielenberg, 2009). The Inchicore RW were the largest engineering works in Dublin and the south of Ireland at the time (Bielenberg, 2009; Ryan, 1996).

Overall, Dublin was characterised by low wages and a low skilled workforce, with a working poor that accounted for 40% of the population (Yeates, 2017). While over a third of the city’s residents lived in one-room tenements (CSO, 2016), the housing conditions in Inchicore’s railway village were far superior. Evidence from 1914 suggests that the wages of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the railways were around double the wages of male labourers and similar to comparable workers in Great Britain (Ó Gráda, 1994). Thus, the households discussed in this blogpost represent the relatively well-paid section of the working class in Dublin (for comparison, see section on ‘Spatial Justice’ by Kearns, SJD8 #2 ‘Historical Geographies of Injustice in Dublin 8′).

The Landscape of Inchicore’s Worker Housing

There was a lack of housing in Inchicore when the GS&WR established the RW in the mid-nineteenth century. In response, the company decided to build housing for its skilled workers and their families. If demand for skilled labour outstripped supply at the time, the provision of housing might have made employment at the RW more attractive for workers, who could have taken up employment elsewhere. The company might have had other motives too for building the housing. For example, providing housing for employees might have been seen as a means to deter workers from taking industrial action against the company. Not all employees lived in this housing, however. In the early twentieth century, the RW employed about 2,000 individuals (McLeod, 2004: 94), but there were only 145 houses. McLeod (2004: 45) notes that there was considerable competition amongst employees for these houses, even though residents paid rent to the company for the housing.

This housing development was separated from the rest of Inchicore by high stone walls (McLeod, 2004: 36), physical structures that could be considered as symbolic boundaries of privilege, where the skilled workers of the company lived in relative comfort, unlike the rest of Inchicore and Dublin city. They might also be considered walls of control, however, where the workers lived in the ever-present shadow of the RW and under the eye of their employer. Table 1 provides the year of construction and number of houses on each street.  

Table 1: Year of construction and number of houses by street. Source: McLeod (2004: 80).

The map of the area below (Figure 1) shows the allotments to the rear of the houses where residents could grow their own food. It also reveals the variance in the size of both the front gardens and the allotments. McLeod (2004) provides some evidence that there was a hierarchy of housing amongst the resident workers; the size of the garden and allotment might have been one dimension of that hierarchy.

Figure 1: Map of the GS&WR worker housing. Source: Ordinance Survey Ireland, Historic Map 25-inch 1888 – 1913.

Multi-Generational Employment at the Inchicore Railway Works

While the census data lists the occupation of an individual, it does not always list the place of employment. Therefore, an alternative method is required to identify the place of work of an individual. First, as the housing was built by the GS&WR for its employees, this analysis assumes that the head of household is an employee of the GS&WR. Second, the likelihood of multi-generational employment in a household being associated with the RW was determined by the occupation of the son or nephew. Households with at least one son/nephew with the following occupations were identified as very likely cases of multi-generational employment at the RW: apprentice black smith; apprentice engineer; boiler maker; coach builder; core maker (iron foundry); electric engine man; engine driver; engine fitter; engine stocker; fitter; iron moulder; iron turner; railway clerk; (railway) fireman; railway fitting shop machinist; railway labourer; railway millwright fitter; smith’s helper at works. Many of these occupations were obviously railway jobs, such as engine driver or railway clerk. Others, such as iron moulder, were identified as railway jobs using information in the literature on the Inchicore RW. For example, the literature reveals that there was an iron foundry and blacksmith’s workshop at the Works (Córas Iompair Éireann, 1989). The presence of the following occupations amongst the younger generation of a household was used to identify possible cases of multi-generational RW employment: accountant clerk; clerk; hammer boy; labourer; office boy; and machine boy. These occupations could be associated with the GS&WR, but they are arguably more general occupations that could have been associated with other employers as well.

Multi-generational employment at the Railway Works was clearly a significant feature of family life in the housing developments built by the GS&WR in Inchicore, as indicated in Table 2. The first column shows the total number of households on each street; the second, the number of households with multiple generations of males in employment (with any employer); the third, households with multi-generational employment that was very likely associated with the RW; the fourth, households with multi-generational employment that was possibly associated with the RW; and the last, households with multi-generational employment that was not likely associated with the RW. Overall, there were 151 households living on these streets in 1911. In 56 of the total 67 households that had two generations of men in employment, it is very likely that these men were employed at the RW. In a further nine households with two generations of men in employment, it is possible that these men were employed at the RW. There were only two households identified where multi-generational employment is not likely to have been associated with the RW.

Table 2: Total number of households, including multi-generational employment (MGE), and likelihood of MGE at GS&WR, by street. Source: 1911 Census, National Archives.

In many of the households with multi-generational employment at the RW, more than one son or nephew was employed by the company. Therefore, it appears that the family members of GS&WR employees might have had a relative advantage in accessing employment at the RW. As these jobs were relatively well-paid, it may have been in the economic self-interest of sons and nephews to seek employment at the RW. The conditions under which workers accessed this housing, however, suggests another possible reason. Parents may have encouraged their sons or nephews to take up RW employment to ensure that the family could continue to live in worker housing after the head of household retired from employment or lost his job. Otherwise, the family would have faced the threat of eviction (McLeod, 2004).

It is worth briefly considering some examples to illustrate the heterogeneity of these households. The McDonnell family, who lived at 18 Abercorn Terrace in 1911, included: James, aged 55, employed as an engine fitter; his wife, Marianne; their two sons, aged 25 and 17, both employed as engine fitters; and daughter, Mary, aged 15 and a student at the time. The McDonnagh family at 27 South Terrace included: John, aged 71, a retired railway engine driver; his wife; and four of seven living children. All of the children were born in Inchicore. The two sons, John and James, aged 46 and 40 respectively, were employed as an engine fitter and a railway engine driver. The family would not have been able to stay living in the house upon John’s retirement had the sons not been employed at the RW. It would be interesting to know how the housing allocation decisions were made in these cases.

There was only one generation of men in employment in 84 of these households in 1911.  The vast majority of these households did not have a son or nephew of employable age living in the household at the time. If time-series data were available, a more detailed analysis could follow these households over time as the younger generation grew older, to find out how many sons or nephews progressed to employment at the RW in later years. While this analysis provides one snapshot in time, it appears probable that for any households with male children, at least one of them would take up employment at the RW upon leaving school.

Conclusion

This blogpost has examined the extent of father-son and uncle-nephew employment at the Inchicore Railway Works amongst families living in company-owned housing in 1911. The analysis suggests that multi-generational employment at the RW is likely to have been widespread in this area of Inchicore at the time. It appears that jobs at the RW were often filled by the family members of existing employees who lived in company housing. It may have been relatively difficult for anyone without a connection to find work there if they were competing with the family members of company employees. Given that these jobs were relatively well-paid, this evidence points towards the existence of social and economic immobility in Dublin in the early twentieth century. It is possible that some families living in worker housing encouraged their sons or nephews to take up employment at the RW so that the family would not lose the house upon the retirement or death of the head of household. It is not clear from the data how widespread this phenomenon was, although a small number of such cases can be identified. Further examination of this pattern and how housing allocation decisions were made by the company are important questions for future research.

From a spatial justice perspective, the blogpost has already commented upon how these workers were relatively privileged in terms of income and housing conditions. Nevertheless, the evidence presented here suggests a unique economic dependency on their employer insofar as their capacity to live in their homes was tied to having an employment link to the company. The lesson that may resonate most today is that the right to a decent home should not depend upon our employment status, place of work, or income, but on our dignity as equally human beings.     

— Rob Keogh

Rob Keogh is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University. This blog post was developed from an essay in Semester 1, 2020 for ‘GY607 Field School’, a postgraduate module for the MA in Spatial Justice taught by Professor Gerry Kearns. An earlier version of this blog was previously published in Milieu 43 (2021) as: Keogh, Robert. 2021. Jobs for the boys: Multi-generational employment at the Inchicore Railway Works in 1911, pp. 84-88.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Professor Karen Till for providing invaluable editorial guidance on this blog post and its previous version in Milieu. Thanks also to Professor Gerry Kearns for offering enlightening counsel as I conducted the original research during the ‘GY607: Field School’ module on the MA Spatial Justice. For introducing me to the history of Inchicore, and to the joys of geographical fieldwork, thank you to both Professor Gerry Kearns and Professor Karen Till, who led our class on walks through Inchicore and other parts of the city in late 2020. Finally, I would like to thank my classmates, whose good company and fascinating research made those days out all the more enjoyable.

References

Bielenberg, A. (2009) Ireland and the Industrial Revolution: The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Irish Industry, 1801-1922. Abingdon: Routledge.

Central Statistics Office (2016) Life in 1916 Ireland: Stories from Statistics [online]. Available at: https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/introduction/ (accessed 15 December 2021).

Córas Iompair Éireann (1989) Railway Engineering Works: Inchicore, Dublin, Ireland.  Dublin: Córas Iompair Éireann.

Crowe, C. (2017) Urban and Rural Living Conditions Before the Revolution In: Crowley, J., Ó Drisceoil, D., and Murphy, M. eds. Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Cork: Cork University Press. 60-65.

Hennelly, D. and McCarthy, N. (2022) Green gaffs for all. Rupture [online]. Available at: https://rupture.ie/articles/green-gaffs-for-all (accessed 15 December 2021).

Kearns, G. (2014) Introduction In: Kearns, G., Meredith, D. and Morrissey, J. eds. Spatial Justice and the Irish Crisis. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. 1-16.

Lee, J.J. (2006) Ireland, 1912 – 1985: Politics and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McLaughlin, E. (2017) The Irish Revolution and its Aftermath: The Economic Dimension In: Crowley, J., Ó Drisceoil, D., and Murphy, M. eds. Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Cork: Cork University Press. 762-769.

McLeod, H. (2004) The Inchicore Works community: 1845 – 1925: A study of nineteenth-century railway engineering works and the community it created. MA thesis, Maynooth University.

Ó Gráda, C. (1994) Ireland: A New Economic History 1780 – 1939. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ryan, G. (1996) The Works: Celebrating 150 Years of Inchicore Works. Inchicore Pension and Welfare Association.

Smyth, W. J. (2017) Nineteenth century Ireland: transformed contexts and class structures In: Crowley, J., Ó Drisceoil, D., and Murphy, M. eds. Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Cork: Cork University Press. 4-21.

Yeates, P. (2017) Lockout, 1913 In: Crowley, J., Ó Drisceoil, D., and Murphy, M. eds. Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Cork: Cork University Press. 192-195.

4 comments

  1. […] SJD8 #6: Jobs for the Boys, a Home for the Family? Multi-generational Employment at the Inchicore …, Rob Keogh, PhD student in Geography […]

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  2. […] estates built by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company (GS&WRC) (see Keogh, SJD8#6 ‘Jobs for the Boys, a Home for the Family? Multi-generational Employment at the Inchicore Railwa…’), then they demonstrate the concept of reduced or more ‘coarse’ granularity, which […]

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  3. […] particular concern to workers as they depended on their employer for housing (see Keogh SJD8 #6 ‘Jobs for the Boys, A Home for the Family? Multi-Generational Employment at the Inchicore Railway Wor…’). Despite this, the ASE engaged in numerous strikes throughout the 1890s, most revolving around […]

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  4. […] the sport was picked up in the area. There were many Englishmen working in the area (see Keogh, SJD8 # 6 ‘Jobs for the Boys…’), many of whom played soccer. Indeed, ‘Richmond Athletic was the club of English-born gasfitters […]

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