Words: Eva O’Beirne
Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle by Terry Fagan brings you on a tour of Dublin’s raunchier, more deadly past.
Most people are unaware that at one point, Dublin had the largest red-light district in Europe. Nicknamed the “Monto”, the area hailed its name from Montgomery Street, now Foley Street in north Dublin. From the 1916 Rising to James Joyce’s Ulysses, Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle allows you to explore the area’s history like never before.
An area steeped in dramatic social history, it is mind-boggling to historians like Terry Fagan why Irish historical institutions and the tourism industry have neglected the area until now. When asked why he thinks this is the case, Fagan notes that the content of the area isn’t exactly family-friendly but “for so many Dubliners, [the Monto] is where we come from”, and that should be reason enough to preserve the history of the former red-light district.
Fagan explains that an anti-working class bias has existed for some time, and perhaps this has also influenced decisions by tourism groups to avoid the area.
To immerse us in the history of the area, Fagan brought us to the front of The LAB art gallery, just off Talbot Street. Established by Dublin City Council, the building has a form of memorial to the Monto, with sections dedicated to the area’s involvement in Ireland’s revolutionary period in the early 20th century.
Entitled “The LAB Looks Back”, the wall is merely a snap-shot into the history of the area. Fagan details that from Ireland’s national anthem to the 1916 proclamation, without the Monto, Ireland would be a very different place today.
Fagan previously ran an in-person, free museum under the North Inner City Folklore Project but due to logistical issues, it is currently not open. He does express that he is open to being approached to host the museum again – all he needs is a venue.
Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle is a deeply interesting read – it is almost impossible to imagine the Dublin each former resident describes. Based on personal accounts, the book centres on the experiences of those who lived alongside the prostitutes. It is often touching at times to see the mutual respect and kindness that was held between resident families and sex workers, with some households even fostering the “Monto babies”.
To Fagan, the Monto is something that deserves its own chapter in Irish history, similar to that of the Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes and industrial schools. Hopefully, this book can be the start of that journey of recognition.
Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle will be arriving in Dublin book stores soon, but can be currently purchased on Instagram. You can also book to go on Terry Fagan’s walking tour of the Monto on the page.
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