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 exam centre - junior cert   « back 

Key PointsRole of womenUrban LifeRural LifeTransport and Communications

Social Change in Twentieth Century Ireland

Key Points

In this Question in the J.Cert Exam you are usually asked to write about some of ways in which peoples lives have changed over the past 80-90 years in Ireland.  You may be asked to write under some of the following topics:

  • Life in rural areas
  • Life in the towns and cities
  • Transport and Communication
  • Role of women in society
  • Changes in leisure and pastimes

In order to get high marks in this Question you need to write a well-organised essay and use plenty of factual information. You may also be asked to list some of the sources which you might use in studying the lives of people in Ireland and what you learn from these sources and whether or not you think they are reliable.

In a study of the social changes that have occurred in Ireland over the past 80 years you could mention some of the following as your sources of information.

  • Old photograph collections such as the Lawrence Collection which consists of over 40,000 photos and which have been used in various books and also in a TV documentary by RTE called "Shadows of the Past"  Other collections of photos are the Eason Collection and thousands of photos taken by a Jesuit priest in the 1920's and 1930's called the Fr. Browne Collection.
  • Written sources such as books, old newspapers, plays etc. Some good examples are "Your dinners poured out" by a primary teacher called Paddy Crosbie who taught in Dublin city. Also good sources of information about city life are the plays of Sean O' Casey who was reared in the tenements of Dublin as well as his autobiography. For life in rural Ireland you could mention the book by Alice Taylor called "To school through the fields" which is all about a young girl growing up in Cork in the 1930's and 40's. Another really good example is a book called "Children of the Dead End" by Patrick MacGill which describes his life growing up in west Donegal in the early 1900's. e.g. describes the hiring fair at Strabane each May.
  • Another valuable source of information are the many stories from our grandparents about life when they were growing up whether it was in the city or the countryside. This is called oral history.
  • Other sources of information are visits to heritage centres and places such as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Role of Women

Early 1900's

  • Women had very few rights
  • Often treated as second class citizens
  • Most women only went to primary school
  • Only a small % went to second or third level
  • Very few women had careers outside the home
  • Women expected to stay at home and rear children
  • Many women married young - large families common
  • Women trained to be nurses, teachers or joined civil service
  • Women not allowed to vote in general elections
  • Minority of women began to demand equality - called the Suffragettes
  • Finally got right to vote 1918
  • First women elected MP was from Ireland - Countess Markievitz
  • In rural areas women had a very important role
  • Often sold eggs, did knitting, packed fish to make extra money
  • In cities women also worked in factories and as domestic servants
  • Women were often the sole wage earner in the family
  • Women nearly always paid less than men for the same work


  • Women’s Rights Movement spread to Ireland in 1960’s
  • Women began to demand greater equality
  • Free education arrived in 1960’s
  • Girls had option to do science subjects for first time
  • Large number of women go on to 3rd level education from 1970’s on
  • Women no longer have to give up their jobs in civil service when they marry
  • Women are entitled to equal pay as men
  • Employment Equality Agency set up 1977
  • Ensures there’s no discrimination against women in work
  • Still very few women on Boards of  Telecom, FAS, I.D.A., Banks, Civil service
  • More women entering politics for first time
  • First woman leader of an Irish political party in 1990’s
  • First woman President in 1990, Mary Robinson, Mary MacAleese in 1997
  • Women also prominent in world of sport in 1990’s

Urban Life 

Early 1900's

  • Poorest people had very bad housing called tenements
  • Nearly 30% of Dublin population
  • One family often lived in a single room
  • Tenements were often dirty, noisy, unsafe and overcrowded
  • 7-8 families often shared one outside toilet and cold-water tap
  • No heating, lighting or inside toilets
  • Nearly 25% of babies died from disease and poor diet
  • The worst disease was T.B. which killed adults and children
  • Majority of men were unskilled labourers
  • Many worked on the docks but only on a casual basis
  • Many women also worked as domestic servants or in factories like Jacob's in Dublin
  • Skilled workers and Guinness workers had better housing
  • Middle-class lived in the suburbs such as Rathmines
  • Trams were most common form of transport
  • Boundary of city of Dublin was North Circular Rd and South Circular Rd
  • Population around 250,000


  • Tenements have all been demolished
  • People moved into Corporation flats and to new estates such as Crumlin, Ballyfermot
  • Huge housing development of Ballymun in 1960’s - copied UK and USA
  • Unions and social welfare system have improved the quality of people's lives
  • Suburbs of Dublin have grown rapidly eg. Tallaght - over 100,000 people
  • Large number of people moved to city from countryside since 1960's - new jobs
  • Still have problems in inner-city areas esp. unemployment
  • Also a growing problem of crime and drug abuse in many cities
  • Many large new shopping centres and cinemas built
  • 1st shopping centre opened 1967 in Stillorgan
  • Urban renewal schemes very important in late 1980’s eg. Temple Bar
  • Huge increase in number of apartments built
  • Boundary of Dublin city continues to expand
  • Problems are lack of amenities in some areas esp. for young
  • Also a growing problem of waste disposal as cities grow
  • Problem of transport congestion
  • Air pollution also problem in modern city

Rural Life

Early 1900's

  • Most people lived in countryside
  • Many people were poor
  • Many were seasonal migrants to Scotland or England
  • Many forced to emigrate to USA or UK
  • Lived in small, thatched 3-roomed cottages
  • Kitchen was main room - open hearth fire
  • Very little furniture - wooden tables, chairs and dresser
  • Lighting was either oil lamps or candles
  • Main fuel was turf or wood
  • Cooking done on open fire - iron pots and pans
  • No piped water supply - relied on pump or a well
  • More prosperous farmers lived in 2 storey houses with slate roofs
  • Work was done mainly by hand or with horses
  • Women played a very important role
  • Cooking, churning, ironing, looking after children and elderly relatives
  • Helped at harvest, gathered seaweed


  • More modern bungalows were built
  • Many houses built by local county councils
  • Nearly all houses had running water, bathrooms etc.
  • Electricity brought everywhere in 1950's
  • ESB set up to do this
  • More electrical equipment in houses and on farm
  • Life made somewhat easier for women
  • Very little work done by hand or by horse
  • Large scale use of machinery and tractors
  • Farming became more efficient
  • Large co-ops formed in rural areas
  • Aid from EU to rural areas very important in period after 1973
  • Also a decline in number of small farms
  • Major move from rural to urban areas
  • Rural depopulation and isolation a big issue in 1990’s

Transport and Communications

Early 1900's

  • Walking the number 1 form of transport
  • Bicycles became popular for first time
  • Horse-drawn transport also widely used to transport goods and people
  • Wealthy had own carriages in rural and urban areas
  • Electric trams widely used in cities e.g. Dublin
  • Large network of railroads all over Ireland - most built in 1890’s
  • Cheap means of travel all over Ireland
  • Many people went on day-trips to the sea
  • Very few people could afford holidays
  • Very few motor-cars.. 1st one imported into Ireland in 1899 by a Dublin doctor
  • 1904 - 38 cars in Dublin
  • Only the very rich could afford cars - cost around £400
  • Break down was expensive to repair
  • Travel abroad : steamship the only option
  • Steamships left from Dublin, Cork, Belfast
  • Could cross Atlantic in 5-8 days
  • Most communication via telegram or by letter
  • Very few phones available


  • Cars began to be mass produced around 1910
  • Cars became more affordable e.g. Model T Ford 1908
  • More and more ordinary people could afford cars
  • Petrol stations opened for first time
  • Buses and lorries became common on roads
  • CIE set up in 1940's...buses and trains
  • Aer Lingus set up in 1930's
  • First trans-Atlantic flights to USA were by flying-boats in 1937
  • Airports built at Shannon, Dublin and Cork
  • Shannon Airport was first in world to have a duty-free zone
  • Many new smaller airports built in recent years
  • Huge increase in number of private cars in 1960's
  • Many new and improved roads built
  • Huge amount of money comes from EU funds
  • Problem of traffic congestion and air pollution in 1990’s
  • Communications have improved dramatically
  • Phones became more common in 1960’s
  • 1990’s - mobile phones, Internet, e-mail and satellite
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