“Overcrowding is frequently observed. The smaller house property generally is in a wretched condition. Many of the cottages are thatched, confined, dilapidated, excessively damp, dirty and ill‑provided with privies. Many houses without through ventilation. When entered the stench was unbearable. They have no privy or drainage.
Further, in this Court they are in the habit of keeping a large pan within doors during
the day (having no privy) and when night comes they deposit the whole upon the
dunghill near the entrance of the Court, the effluvia from which is abominable and the
appearance disgusting to the eye‑sight.”
Report of the General Board of Health (1850).
In one street there was one privy for nine houses, and a pump in one garden serving several streets. There were usually a few families living in each small house. One three‑roomed house had eleven beds in which twenty‑five persons slept. However, overcrowding did not prevent a welcome to fellow countrymen. Space could always be found – even if it was only a tent in the garden.
The Irish were not deterred from practising their faith. Each week the fitter members of the Irish community met at the 'Coach and Horses' public house, before walking the twenty miles to St David’s Church in Cardiff. Members of the church provided overnight lodgings. On special feastdays a visiting priest would take a service in someone's house, but from 1852 Father Benzwioski of Swansea held a monthly service at John Burke’s house in Chapel Street, and children were baptised in their own homes.
Education in Bridgend was either in a private boarding school or through the Sunday Schools. As the Irish had no church their children were not able to obtain even a basic education.
This was corrected in 1857 as the Irish population had grown to a size that warranted the building of a church in the town, which was dedicated to St Mary. In 1879 a church was built in Aberkenfig, three miles outside Bridgend, and dedicated to St Robert.
When fights broke out in ‘lrish Lane’, and they frequently did on Saturday nights, the police would send for the priest to deal with it.
Three generations of Randalls worked as agents for the Dunraven Estate, who owned the property in this part of the town. A Mr Donagar was keeper of one of the three Lodging Houses in the town.
Nowadays Bridgend’s industrialisation attracts all nationalities, German and Japanese are taught in schools, and no trace remains of the xenophobia caused by the poverty and suspicion of the 19th century.
'Irish Lane' is now recognised by its proper names – Chapel Street and Maddocks Place; Paradise Street, Phillip’s and David's Courts have disappeared. It is no longer an Irish enclave. The names Randall, Hegarty, Murphy, Walsh, Dyer, Driscoll and Daniels are a few of the Irish names to become integrated into the fabric of the town.
©: Hilary M. Rowley.
A shortened version of this article has been published previously in ‘Ireland’s Own’ and in the anthology, ‘ Voices from Wales’, published in 1997 by the Bridgend Wriers’ Circle of which the author is a member.