1913 Lockout – Strumpet City

Lockout_Strumpet City

The choice of James Plunkett’s Strumpet City as this year’s One City, One Book has been given the thumbs-up by many of the capital’s literary groups. Although written in 1969, the story still retains the feelings of destitution, anger and defiance prevalent during the period surrounding the great Lock-Out, precursor to both the Rising and the War of Independence.

Set between 1907 and 1914, Dublin is brimming with talk of overthrowing colonial rule amid a possible war between Britain and Germany. King George himself arrives in the city to bolster recruitment to the British armed forces. Anglo class structure is prevalent throughout most of the capital’s employers and gentry, whilst squalor, poor sanitation and high unemployment thrive amongst the less educated masses.

This is reflected nowhere more so than the Bradshaw residence, a lavish house on the outskirts of Kingstown, where Mary works as a well-liked servant girl. Contrary to her terms of employment, she is secretly courting Fitz, a foundry worker whom she marries following discovery and dismissal by the Bradshaws.

The couple settle in Chandler’s Court, an inner city tenement surrounded by an array of characters, each with individual and unique struggles. From Mulhall, a workmate of Fitz who holds militant views favouring Jim Larkin, to the Hennessys and local scallywag ‘Rashers’ Tierney.

The community is scrupulously overseen by the local church, where Parish priest Father Giffley struggles against alcoholism and whose Christian virtues are severely tested following the arrival of Fr O’Connor, a young conservative-styled cleric with high ambitions of leaving the tenements’ community for more lush pastures.

A split in Larkin’s own trade union and the offer of work to those prepared to cross a picket line brings about harsh divisions and envy as the great Lock-Out of 1913 takes grip throughout Dublin. The resulting widespread striking and rioting has a profound effect on the community and on each of the characters.

James Plunkett’s Strumpet City gives a unique insight to a city and people on their knees just before being forced to revolt. The levels of class structure are painfully peeled back to expose the humanity beneath, whilst questioning the principles that make up that humanity.

Although set in a turbulent time of Dublin history, the story still holds as true today, even if the tenements may have changed.

By Eric Murphy