A world abandoned: Ireland in the 19th century in photos

In February 2015 I set about researching a historical fiction novel set in the Boyne Valley, Ireland. The idea for the book struck me after reading a thesis essay by Gareth Yore on an eviction that took place at Dowth, Co. Meath in 1880.

Since then, I have travelled to a number of different sites to try and get a feel for what life was like in the 19th century. On the way, I have collected some pictures.

I have always been fascinated by 19th century culture – particularly late 19th century Victorian and Edwardian times. Who knows, perhaps part of my soul lived back then?

In today’s post, I share some of those images.

19th century 1

I was taken by the abandonment of the above scene at Dowth. The railings now bent by a century of batterment, leave a sorry and woeful memory of what must have been a magnificent sight. The thick gate pillars may well have built using material from Dowth as most of the gates and buildings along this road would have been.

19th century fashion
In London I visited the Victoria and Albert Musuem and spent a very geeky hour glued to anything that said ’19th century’. I was particularly taken with the fashion displays of authentic clothing from the era. I’ve come to understand that surviving clothing tends to be only from the very rich – rag clothing, as most ‘normal’ people would have been wearing would have been handed down so much, that it eventually disintegrated or ended up stuffed in a mattress. The poor, or working class, made their own clothes or bought second hand.

19th century fashion

I’ve also started to get a feel for the different fashions. Like any century, fashion trends came and went. You can see the fashion changing dramatically towards the end of the 19th century, when less became more, the large dresses dropped and women began to wear more practical and less lavish clothing.

19th century 4
In Drogheda Millmount Museum I got up close to their displays of 19th century homewares and domestic items. The above mangle (pictured top right) was a helping hand on the dreaded wash day. There would have been plenty of black bicycles on the road too, with people travelling to where they needed to go and delivery boys racing round with their goods.

Boyne Regatta

In my novel the characters attend the Boyne Regatta, which was one of the biggest calendar events of the year. People travelled by train from all over to watch the competing teams race down the Boyne. It’s hard to imagine such an event now, with rowing largely thought of as a thoroughly English, upper class sport. The people captured above would have sat on Marsh Road side of the river with the rest of the crowd on the the opposite side.

19th century 6

I visited Townley Hall on their open day; the house is rarely open to the public. Above you can see the fountain leading up to the front door, the giant column surrounds at the front door and a picture of the back of the house where two rooms are blocked up. When we were children, we were always told that these rooms were blocked up because they were haunted. The house features 365 windows; you can look out of a different window each day of the year.

Townley Hall house

Inside Townley Hall, there are beautiful feature ceilings. The stairs pictured lead down to the kitchen and servant quarters. The dome ceiling is a particularly celebrated feature of the Francis Johnson designed house and sheds light into the centre of the house.

19th century 8

We visited Lissadell House, Co. Sligo on our recent staycation. The house is packed with antiques and interesting photographs and artefacts. I liked that the house wasn’t too shiny – it felt lived in and not clinical like some state owned or museum properties can be. Above you can see a toy room packed with antique toys and the old kitchen dresser. At one time in the mid 19th century, the kitchen caught 300 rats in one week. Seems most people were used to sharing their lives with furry creatures back in the day.

19th century 9

In the American Ulster Folk Park, we spent a fascinating three hours wandering around, visiting the buildings and chatting with the living history actors, who could tell us in minute detail about the lives of the people who lived then.

Ulster American Folk Park
It was the best example of a living museum I’ve ever seen and we would return again. If you’re interested in history, or if you’d like to get your children interested in history, this is a must-see.

Dowth Co Meath

Finally, I leave you with some landscape images of where my novel is set. This is the actual lane where the family lived. Above right is a broken gravestone where they are buried. Every time I visit, I’m taken by the pure beauty, freshness and spirit of this ancient landscape. I hope my book will do it some justice.

You can read a short excerpt of my novel on writing.ie


December Girl is now available on Audio. Visit Amazon or Audible or click on the cover below to download.

December Girl audiobook

30 Comments on A world abandoned: Ireland in the 19th century in photos

  1. wow. Your novel really sounds like something I would be interested in. Did you ever read ‘Secret Letters’ by Emma Donoghue? If you like the 1800s/1900s eras you will love it.

    I’m borderline obsessed with the 1800s, I don’t know whether it stems from reading childrens books based in that time as a child, or an early visit to number 27 Fitzwilliam square (go if you haven’t been already!).

    I haven’t been to any of these places you’ve mentioned so I am really glad to have come across your blog.I can’t wait for your novel!

    • Thanks a mil Claire! You can subscribe if you’re interested in following the novel progression. Thanks for the book tip – will def check out. Here’s on your sister on the obsession – just something so appealing about those times – how people lived. As for 27 Fitzwilliam – it’s on the list – haven’t made it yet and don’t know how as I used to just work aroudnd the corner!

  2. this is a great post gives a real feel for the book. how amazing are those ceilings although can you imagine the cleaning on them 🙂

  3. WOW – you’ve certainly visited some beautiful places while conducting your research. Like you, i love everything about the Edwardian and Victorian periods so really enjoyed this post. Thank you. xxx

    • Thanks Vikki! I love the Edmwardian times too – particularly the fashion then. Such fascinating times. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Wow, your pictures are amazing. I love this era – we have a living museum near to us where they’ve re-erected buildings from different historical periods and I just love it there. Something about it is so calming. Loved reading this post Nicola.

    • Thanks Kate, what’s the name of the place? Think it’s on my list to visit. Doing a UK tour I hope!

  5. I love Lisadell House! I went when I was younger and it was very memorable! And we used to always visit the Ulster American Folk Park as a child, so I’m fond of it as well x

    • We must have similar parents! I got my love for visiting these houses from mine. Agree on Lisadell Hse, fascinating place.

  6. How interesting. I really enjoyed reading that and looking at all of your pictures in detail. How fascinating to see that crib too … I wonder what became of the baby/babies who slept there!

    I am quite taken by that era too, I find it so interesting to see how life has changed.

    I feel excited for you to be writing your own novel. I will definitely be wanting to read it when its done. Great post, Anna x

    • Thanks a million Anna. Going through lots of phases with the novel writing. Come through a few crossroads. From people’s responses there is a great interest in that period of history – probably because so much changed to help form the modern world we know today. Thanks for the comment. I’ll keep you updated on the book!

  7. Let me tell you how obsessed I am in with 19th century literature, beyond obsessed I live and breathe it. Historical fiction is my favourite genre and although I incline towards Ancient Egypt/ Medieval and Tudor England I would love to read your novel.

    • Wow really Ana? I’m obsessed too, have learnt so much about our social history in just the past few months. Love Tudor stuff too, I’m sure you’ve watched all the TV shows. Lots of historical drama on TV these days ; )

  8. You are writing a novel!? Just wow, I have total admiration for you and the genre is fantastic. So interesting, those pictures are incredible. I really enjoy this sort of thing x

    • I’m trying to! The writing is easy, it’s making it good that’s the hard part! And then flogging it! Thanks for your comments xx

  9. Your novel sounds great, I love a good read. Also loving your pictures, looking back in time and seeing how things used to be always catches my attention, it’s amazing how different things used to be. Xx

    • So different. But still the same thoughts and feelings. That’s the beauty of historical fiction: same themes in different dresses!

    • Charlotte, u mean you’re not a nerd like me? Tut tut. Us nerds are loads of fun! But yes, you should totally visit Ireland : )

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