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British Library. Thousands of women working as prostitutes roamed the streets of the towns and cities of Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While there was a common belief that prostitution was an inevitable feature of life, especially where military garrisons existed, as long as prostitutes remained out of the public eye they were tolerated.
It was most often their visibility that caused anxiety in the wider public.
Prostitutes were believed to be the main source of venereal disease infection, and prostitution itself was believed to be contagious. There are few, if any, reliable statistics on the extent of prostitution.
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The two best sources are the police statistics for the Dublin Metropolitan District from toand the criminal and judicial statistics from covering the entire country. The figures for arrests and convictions of women accused of soliciting; they do not record the of re-arrests.
Since many women were arrested dozens of times within any one year, these figures do not tally with the s of women operating as prostitutes.
They also fluctuate widely—giving the impression that prostitution is diminishing or increasing—but in a way not backed up by other evidence. On the other hand, it is unlikely that every prostitute was arrested.
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So these statistics give us a general idea of where and when the police were most vigilant in arresting prostitutes. The Dublin Metropolitan Police DMP statistics show that 2, arrests were made inincreasing yearly to a maximum of 4, in and decreasing to 1, influctuating around the 1, mark from then to the s and reaching a low of in In the twentieth century the highest of arrests, consequent on the introduction of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, is inwith 1, detentions, and then the arrest figures gradually decrease to a low of by If we look at the figures for the entire country we find that in and these figures include Dublin there were 3, arrests for prostitution.
Leinster consistently had the highest of arrests, and Connacht the least. Galway City rarely features, but prostitution certainly existed there.
Discussion document on future direction of prostitution legislation
The census listed 27 prostitutes and brothel-keepers in County Galway four in the city that go unrecorded in the crime statistics. The DMP suggested that there were 1, prostitutes in Dublin in ; by that figure had declined to A of women worked in brothels, though they did not necessarily live in these establishments.
In there were 1, brothels in Dublin. During the Famine years the of brothels in the city hovered between andwith in excess of 1, women working from them. By there were 74 brothels operating openly in Dublin and an average of three women worked from each of them.
The police were slow to close down brothels, believing that this spread the problem into new areas by dispersing the women. Prostitution was often the resort of the desperate in a country that offered limited opportunities to women and where a change in economic circumstances, such as the loss of employment or desertion by a spouse or breadwinner, plunged many women into economic crisis. Susanna Price took to prostitution and crime to support herself when her soldier husband was overseas. Prostitutes were most often charged with theft, being drunk and disorderly, vagrancy and sometimes murder.
When convicted of soliciting the general sentence was a fine or, in default of payment, two weeks or longer in prison.
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It is also evident that many newspaper reporters used some of these court cases as a way to amuse their readers. For instance, two women who lived in a hovel in Ennis were charged with not paying their landlord rent. Streets renamed. In the cities, renaming streets associated with prostitution was relatively common. In Dublin Corporation renamed Mecklenburgh Street Tyrone Street to please the respectable working-class residents of the area.
Violence and abuse. Women who worked as prostitutes left themselves open to violence and abuse. She alleged that a client, Francis Kelly, had enticed her into a field and raped her at knifepoint over a period of three hours. Kelly was later acquitted when Flanagan refused to identify him.
In Limerick, Mary Carmody, who admitted she had been a prostitute for four years, accused a young man of raping her. Despite his claim he was convicted, as was a soldier whose excuse for raping a prostitute was that he had no money. A of these women attempted suicide. A small appear to have been committed to lunatic asylums. Ellen Byrne, a year-old prostitute from Dublin, committed infanticide after being refused entry to the workhouse.
Found guilty but insane, she was sent in to Dundrum Mental Hospital, where she died within the year. Whatever their treatment by the courts or the public, prostitutes were not without some forms of resistance.
It was a common practice for women to change their names to confuse the authorities. They formed a generally mobile population, migrating to towns and cities. With some groups of prostitutes there was also solidarity, seen particularly in the case of the Wrens of the Curragh. Sometimes the women committed crimes in order to go to jail and receive medical attention or a respite from their harsh life.
By the end of the nineteenth century geographical limits were placed on where brothels and prostitutes might operate unhindered. Prostitutes, however, still roamed much more freely than the public or authorities wished. By the early twentieth century Irish nationalists argued that prostitution and venereal disease were symptoms of the British presence in Ireland and that it was only with Irish independence that they would disappear. Apparent rises in the rates of illegitimacy, venereal diseases and sexual crime in the s suggest the simple-mindedness of that view.
Further reading: M. Luddy, Prostitution and Irish society, — Cambridge, Subscribe To renew a subscription please first. Search for:.
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Prostitution in the republic of ireland
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