Cook St/ Coffin St, The Liberties
The following are extracts from a book written by Asenath Nicholson, an American philanthropist, she had worked with the Irish poor in the Five Points Ghetto in New York and financed herself to go to Ireland to see for herself the realities which the people she worked with spoke about. The book contains her personal journals of firsthand accounts of both Dublin, starting in Dun Laoghaire, (she refers to it as Kingstown) and the rest of the country during the periods 1844-1849.
Cook street, a place devoted almost entirely to making coffins, and well known by the name of Coffin St, was the field of my winter’s labour. This was chosen for its extreme poverty, being the seat of misery refined; and here no lady of “delicate foot” would like to venture; The reader may be informed that in the wealthy, beautiful city of Dublin, which can boast some of the finest architecture on earth, there are in retired streets and dark alleys, some of the most forbidding, most uncomfortable abodes that can be found in the wildest bogs of that wretched country. Finding my way through darkness and filth, a sight opened upon me, which, speaking moderately, was startling. When I had recovered a little, I saw on my right hand the miserable woman before-named, sitting in a dark corner on a little damp straw, which poorly defended her from the wet and muddy ground-floor she was occupying. The two ragged, hungry children were at her feet; on the other side of the empty grate (for there was not a spark of fire) sat the kind woman who had taken her in, on the same foundation of straw and mud, with her back against the wall. She was without a dress—she had pawned her last to pay her rent; her husband likewise had pawned his coat for the same purpose. He was lying upon the straw, with a fragment of a cotton shawl about him, for he had no shirt. They were all silent, and for a while I was mute. The woman first mentioned broke the pause, by saying, “This, I believe, is the kind lady I met last night: you have found the way to our dark place, and I am sorry we cannot ask you to sit down.” There was not even a stool in the room. The young woman had been sick for weeks, and was now only able to sit up a little; but having neither food, fuel, or covering, nothing but death stared them in the face; and the most affecting part of the whole to me was the simple statement of the widow, who said, in the most resigned manner, “We have been talking, Mary and I, this morning, and counting off our days; we could not expect any relief, for I could not go out again, and she could not, and the farthest that the good God will give us on earth cannot be more than fourteen days. The children, may be,” she added, “God would let her take with her, for they must soon starve if left.” This had been a cool calculation made from the appearance of the present condition, and without the least murmuring they were bringing their minds to their circumstances. “You are willing to live longer,” I said. “If the good God wills it,” was the answer; “but we cannot see how.”