Meet the people of Ireland: Dublin tour guide, Tracey Bardon

Tracey Bardon, tour guide at 14 Henrietta Street, tells us what sets Dublin’s tenement museum apart from other historical landmarks

Turning the corner on to Henrietta Street, you can’t help but catch your breath. The sleek walls of the Georgian townhouses rise in an unbroken red-brick jigsaw from the cobbled street right up to the blue sky above. At the far end, the soft grey curves of the King’s Inns arch elegantly, all perfectly hewn granite and wrought-iron gates.

It’s not hard to imagine the street, just as it looks now, bustling with horse-drawn carriages, footmen attending to lords and ladies…

“Really, it was the place to be seen,” says Tracey Bardon, tour guide at 14 Henrietta Street, and lifelong local resident. Years before number 14 was open to the public as a museum, it was used as a performance space and event venue. One day, as Tracey was walking past, she saw the door open. “There was a woman on the doorstep and I said to her, ‘God, I’d love to have a look in there – can I?’ So I popped my head in.” A few weeks later, the pair bumped into each other and before she knew it, Tracey was working at reception in number 14. “It was just for the summer, but it was lovely – we even got to meet the President!”

 After a couple of years, the Culture Company took over the building and things really took off. In September 2018, 14 Henrietta Street opened its doors as a museum. Or more of an experience, really, as visitors can step right into the lives of the 18th-century elite who once called this house home; and later, the countless impoverished Dubliners who were forced to cram into the same building and eke out a living in one of the city’s infamous tenement slums. By 1911, Henrietta Street’s 20 houses were home to 1,000 people; 17 families – 100 people – shared 19 flats in number 14 alone.

By 1911, Henrietta Street’s 20 houses were home to 1,000 people; 17 families – 100 people – shared 19 flats in number 14 alone.

Despite the heavy reality of what life was like for people here, for Tracey, it’s a joy to share their stories. “It’s a really lovely job. Every hour, different people come in. They’ll show you a photo or tell you a story they remember from this place – like the man who brought his horse upstairs to sleep every night because he had nowhere to keep it. I remember my mam bringing me through the Temple [what locals call King’s Inns] and telling me how she used to play up there."

“You get people in who are itching to talk about a story they remember. People will come in with a marriage certificate, or a letter or a birth certificate and say, ‘Look, they lived in this house, they lived in that flat!’ This street is amazing.”

You can tell she appreciates every memory – after all, Tracey herself was born in a tenement house on nearby Gardiner Street.

“There’s so much hidden history. It’s important that this house is open as a tenement experience. It’s not intimidating. We’re just normal people – you’re talking to real Dubliners. This is history we can connect with.”

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