The bow of Crofton Road spans Dún Laoghaire harbour. Named for the nineteenth-century Harbour Commissioner, James Crofton, it is today a vibrant seaside address with a rich history. The 1901 census lists just over a dozen residences, but the occupants are a study in contrasts. Indeed, Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) itself at the dawn of the twentieth century was characterized by close proximity of grandeur and destitution.
The Anglesea Arms on Crofton road opened in 1832. When Mr. Thomas Lurring and son became the proprietors in 1896, an Evening Times reviewer proclaimed, ‘The premises have been thoroughly overhauled, repainted, repapered, and redecorated, and the rooms look so bright and cheerful that a sight of them might well dissipate the hypochondria or even the most dyspeptic guest’. (Although six years prior, the hotel had been good enough for their Serene Highnesses Prince and Princess Edward of Saxe-Weimer.)
The hotel boasts thirty bedrooms, six sitting rooms, water closets, and speaking tubes throughout the establishment. There is stabling for twelve horses, in case one did not avail of the Kingstown Railway, practically at the hotel doorstep. Bed and breakfast accommodation will cost you 25 shillings per week.
Mr. Lurring is there at the hotel with his wife and family, and seven staff. He is from England, and Mrs. Lurring was born in South Africa. When the hotel is announced for sale in the Irish Times this same year, we are told Mr. Lurring will be returning to South Africa.
Likely most guests would choose to stroll the harbour and pier, but should you decide to explore Crofton road, you may soon encounter Mr. Thomas McCormack, the assistant railway station manager and his wife Anne, with three children under the age of two.
Walk a little farther down the road and become aware of another fine and formidable building, set well back off the road, and know that these neighbors are living in a different world. This is St. Patrick’s Refuge, one of the Magdalene laundries. The neighbors know it as a charitable home, though perhaps they speak in hushed tones of the women who reside there. The Sisters of Mercy moved the institution to this building in 1880. The frequent fundraising pleas in local newspapers (e.g., Irish Times, Belfast Newsletter) inform that the asylum is several thousand pounds’ in debt. Donors should expect Divine reward for aiding these poor destitute penitents, some of whom have ‘grown gray in their persevering efforts to cling, like Magdalen, to the Cross, and never to return to that world which shaded their young days with sorrow”. Others, we are told, “are only entering on a career of penance…’.
The forty-three ‘laundresses’ living at St. Patrick’s in 1901 range in age from eighteen to seventy. Some have been there many decades. About half will still be there in 1911. They come from Belfast, Dublin, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Louth, Meath, Sligo, Tipperary, Wicklow and England. Anne Flanagan from Fermanagh, aged seventy, is the oldest. The youngest are Mary Reid and Esther Dixson, both eighteen, from Dublin. Most are literate. What led each to this fate?
We might wonder, as we pass by, do the other Crofton Road residents ever cross paths with the laundresses? Whose laundry occupies their days? Surely, the adjacent St. Michael’s hospital and Sisters of Mercy convent. Perhaps the hotel?
Walk a little further down and find a grouping of second-class row houses. A variety of middle-class occupations supporting the harbour are represented: storekeepers, mariners, boatmen, harbour constables, the superintendent for harbour works. They are mostly families with children, an unsegregated grouping of Roman Catholic and Protestant households. Four of the households are mixed, with a Protestant husband and Roman Catholic wife. One might like to imagine they are an open-minded and neighborly lot, these seamen whose travels have broadened their vision.
Now at the end of the street, we have walked through worlds in a short stroll. Today, St. Patrick’s Refuge is long gone. You can purchase a sea-view boutique apartment at the restored Anglesea. If you walk Crofton Road today, maybe you will think of these ghosts, and imagine their lives. Hidden in faded ledgers created by bureaucrats, for their mundane purposes, so many stories can be revealed. Or perhaps you will re-imagine the place where your own feet tread each day and follow the trail of the whispers and echoes you hear.