The Iveagh Baths
The Iveagh Baths, located immediately opposite the Iveagh Hostel, were built in line with the vow to not only house the poor but to take care of them in the realms of "convenience, health, comfort, moral welfare and improvement".
According to The Irish Times, the baths formed "a fitting adjunct to the great Iveagh building scheme, and are another example of the philanthropic spirit which prompted the generous donor".
Externally, the baths’ main building was constructed with redbrick, sandstone and granite which presented "a most attractive appearance." Internally, the pitch pine roof was supported with steel principals and the walls were embellished with white enamelled tiles, "which lend an artistic tone to the entire surroundings and produce a most agreeable effect upon the eye."
The 65 x 30 foot swimming pool was also tiled with the white enamelled bricks to match the surrounding walls. The pond itself catered for both the novice and the expert with "a safe 3 feet 6 inches … at its shallowest end, to six feet at its deepest". Natural light flooded the bathhouse; directly above the pool was "a splendid glass roof" as well as "a range of side windows" that also aided in ventilating the buildings. At night time, the entire bathhouse was lit with "a series of handsome electric lamps". Above and surrounding the swimming pool was a "fine ornamental galley" for spectators.
In addition to the swimming pool, Iveagh Baths were also equipped with private hot and cold wash baths, eighteen for men and nine for women, which were "arranged on opposite sides of the buildings" that enforced the segregation of the sexes. Furthermore, in providing for modesty, forty-seven changing rooms were installed. At the south end of the bath complex were shower baths, footbaths and lavatories. This end also housed the washhouse which was equipped with "washing, wringing and mangaling machines, together with a drying closet of a new design for the sole use of the baths". For the staff, there was an instructor’s box, a towel store, a workshop and staff lavatories.
Two twin boilers were used to heat the water throughout the Bathhouse. In addition, there was a water purification plant. The Irish Times maintained that "every detail in connection with the baths had been carried out in a most elaborate and sumptuous manner, and no expense has been spared in making them one of the finest public institutions in the city."
Along with the use of the baths for the public, it was also the venue for a multitude of galas from its inception. The Dublin University Swimming Club (TCD), The Boys Brigade Dublin Battalion, the City of Dublin YMCA and St. Andrew’s College Swimming Club all hosted swimming galas which included individual races as well as team sports such as water polo in the swimming pool to crowds of spectators in the gallery. Bands often played at these events; the Dublin University Swimming Club had musical programmes inserted into the official programmes of the galas, providing a selection of songs including, of course, a rendition of God Save the King.
The Iveagh Baths opened their doors to the public on 6 June 1906. Demand for the Iveagh Baths over the period 1909-1939 fluctuated drastically. Hard figures are only available from 1909 onwards, when they were reported in the Iveagh Trust's annual reports.
Prior to this, comments were made on attendance, without figures. In 1907, it was commented that the attendance at the baths was "fairly satisfactory, in view of the cold summer". 1908 declared an increase of "about 6%" while in 1909 the figure of 36,227 visitors was not as numerous as the previous years, "but the decrease was entirely doubled due to the cold summer."
The greatest annual increase was between 1915-16, when attendance figures jumped from 46,188 in 1915 to 73,503 in 1916 (27,315 additional visits). This large increase was ascribed, at least in part, to the Corporation Baths at Tara Street being closed for alterations and renovations. The Tara Street Baths were constructed on the same lines as those of the Iveagh, and reopened in March of 1917, however, the Iveagh Baths’ attendance figure for that year was still markedly high (72,514).
The provision of public baths and a washhouse was in line with the nineteenth century philanthropic philosophy of social reform. Not only did it aim to cleanse the public physically, promoting hygiene and ridding the smell of the poor, it also aimed to reform the poor morally, believing that physical and moral uncleanliness was inextricably intertwined (229). Bathing can also be understood as a leisure activity of the middle-classes, and hence, demonstrates the infiltration, to an extent of middle class ideals onto the lower classes. As Teresa Breathnach explores, the upsurge in the practice of bathing, and of Turkish baths themselves in Ireland, fulfilled the desires of the “romantic gaze”, a pre-occupation of the Victorian bourgeoisie.
With the leisure world of the middle-classes becoming consumed with bathing, this respectable activity was also associated with health and physical fitness. Hence, the Iveagh Baths were built with an ideal of respectable, middle-class leisure mixed with the improvement of health and fitness as well as cleanliness in terms of hygiene.
The Iveagh Baths were sold to Dublin Corporation in 1951.
Credit: Chloe Michelle O'Reilly, an extract from: The Iveagh Trust of Dublin: A Constructed Community, 1889-1939