Dirty Old Town.

Community Historian Brendan Matthews showing 19th Century Drogheda through the eyes of an English visitor.

In August 1842, an Englishman, by the name of William Makepiece Thackeray, (writer of Vanity fair), made a visiting tour of Ireland and he made the following observations of Drogheda.

"As the coach arrives near Drogheda and, in the boulevards of this town, all resemblance to England is lost. Up hill and down, we pass low rows of filthy cabins in dirty undulations. Parents are at the cabin doors dressing the hair of ragged children; shock-heads of girls peer out from the black circumference of smoke and children, inconceivably, filthy, yell wildly and vociferously as the coach passes by.

One little ragged savage rushed furiously up the hill, speculating upon permission to put on the drag-chain at descending and hoping for a halfpenny reward. He put on the chain, but the guard did not give him a halfpenny.

I flung him one and the boy rushed wildly after the carriage, holding it up with joy. `The man inside has given me one,` says he, holding it up exultingly to the guard. I flung out another (by the by and without any prejudice, the halfpence in Ireland are smaller than those of England), but when the child got this halfpenny, small as it was, it seemed to overpower him — the little man’s look of gratitude was worth a great deal more than the biggest penny ever struck.

The town itself is smoky, dirty and lively. There was a great bustle in the black main street and several good shops; though some of the houses were in a half state of ruin and battered shutters closed many of the windows.

The quays were grimy with the discharge of the coal vessels that lay alongside them and the numerous factories and chimneys were vomiting huge clouds of black smoke. Of one part of its manufactures, every traveller must speak with gratitude – of the ale namely, which is as good as the best brewed in the sister kingdom.

Drogheda ale is to be drunk all over Ireland in the bottled state: candour calls for the acknowledgement, that it is equally praiseworthy in draught. And while satisfying himself of this fact, the philosophic observer cannot but ask, why ale should not be as good elsewhere as at Drogheda: is the water of the Boyne the only water in Ireland whereof ale can be made?

Three boys were running past the Linen hall with a mouse tied to a string and a dog galloping after.

Two little children were paddling down the street, one saying to the other, `Once I had a halfpenny and bought apples with it`.

There is a very large and ugly Roman Catholic chapel in the town and a smaller one of better construction: it was so crowded, however, although on a weekday, that we could not pass beyond the chapel yard; where were great crowds of people, some praying, some talking, some buying and selling.

There were two or three stalls in the yard, presided over by old women, with a store of little brass crucifixes and beads for the faithful to purchase.

By this time, that exceedingly slow coach, the Newry Lark, had arrived at that exceedingly filthy inn, where the mail had dropped us an hour before.

An enormous Englishman was holding a vain combat of wit with a brawny grinning beggar-woman at the door. `There’s a clever gentleman, says the beggar-woman; `sure he’ll give me something`. `How much should you like? `, says the Englishman with playful jocularity. `Musha, `says she, `many a littler man nor you has given me a shilling`.

The coach drives away: the lady had clearly the best of the joking match: but I did not see, for all that, the Englishman gave her a single farthing."

  •  Old Drogheda Society - History, Archaeology & Heritage Millmount, Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland. Tel. 041-9833097

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