For nearly 150 years, the wretched, squalid tenements of Dublin were widely judged to be the worst slums in all of Europe. By the 1930s, 6,400 tenements were occupied by almost 112,000 tenants. Some districts had up to 800 people to the acre, up to 100 occupants in one building, and twenty family members crammed into a single tiny room. It was a hard world of hunger, disease, high mortality, unemployment, heavy drinking, prostitution and gang warfare. But despite their hardship, the tenement poor enjoyed an incredibly closely knit community life in which they found great security and indeed, happiness. As one policeman recalls from over half a century ago, they were ‘extraordinarily happy for people who were so savagely poor’.
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