A Lost Chapter From Cincinnati’s Irish History: The Sad Saga Of Dublin Street

Despite its unsavory reputation as a tenement district scourged by disease and crime, Dublin Street remains one of Cincinnati’s mysteries.
Court Officer John Thomas had to fight his way through a mob after arresting a young man on Dublin Street.

From Cincinnati Enquirer 1 February 1892 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

“If ugliness were a cardinal virtue, angels might abide in Dublin Street.”

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 21 July 1849

When the ghost of Ginger Ryan appeared one night in 1903, Dublin Street, long neglected and criminally abused, was already doomed. Ginger, or James, as he was known to the local priest, had worked as an express man when he was alive. He delivered things by horse-drawn wagon. When he wasn’t working, Ginger was fighting. Sometimes he got into brawls while he was working. Ginger Ryan was the very embodiment of Dublin Street, so it was no surprise when residents of that woebegone lane claimed they saw Ginger’s ghost wandering around in the chill October dusk. Ginger’s ghost never spoke and eventually ceased its nocturnal visits.

As the name suggests, Dublin Street was a gathering place for Cincinnati’s Irish population. The street offered shelter throughout the time when “No Irish Need Apply” signs decorated many Cincinnati storefronts. Barred from all but the most menial occupations, many Dublin Street residents turned to crime. The infamous Nuttle Gang, Irish through and through, congregated here. Descriptions were rarely inspiring. Here is the Enquirer [23 November 1877]:

“Dublin street is a sort of nickname given to a hole in the line of Lock street extended north. It is thickly studded with houses whose tops scarcely reach to the level of the streets now filled in around it. The houses are principally old, weather-beaten frames, with rickety stairs and fences and general squalor to correspond.”

Despite its unsavory reputation, Dublin Street remains one of Cincinnati’s mysteries. It was a street, but it was also an informal district. “Dublin Street” was a catch-all term for the area just east of Bucktown where the poor Irish lived. It is intriguing that Cincinnati’s city directories, which include lists of every street in the city, make no mention of Dublin Street. That absence might imply that Dublin Street had not been dedicated or officially accepted by the city, and yet as early as 1845 the city appropriated funds to grade and pave Dublin Street.

The city proposed a half-dozen variations of plans for a viaduct connecting Gilbert Avenue to Eighth Street. All had one common theme: demolish Dublin Street (outlined here in red).

From Cincinnati Enquirer 9 October 1906 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

It was hardly worth the expense. Dublin Street proper was a narrow alley crammed into a ravine running from the intersection of Lock and Eighth streets to the intersection of Court Street and Gilbert Avenue. Don’t bother trying to find it on a map. The whole area has been bulldozed and covered with a web of highway ramps. As it extended northeasterly, Dublin Street also descended into Deer Creek Valley, the old “Bloody Run” once bathed by the effusions from slaughterhouses upstream. When it rained, Dublin Street became a cesspool. The Enquirer [24 May 1871] opined:

“The Board of Health would do well to visit Dublin street and Gilbert avenue. There is about four feet of filthy gutter-water standing in the street, and the residents have to dam it out of their houses.”

It is unlikely the Health Department took the newspaper’s advice. No one wanted to “visit” Dublin Street and those people forced to do so, such as officers of the court, barely escaped to tell the tale. The Cincinnati Times-Star [22 November 1911] recalled one episode:

“Court Officer John Thomas had his troubles on old Dublin street, too. He recalls a time when he was called upon to arrest a youth named Thorp on a charge of theft. The boy cried and in a moment the street was filled with excited men and women. Thomas had to hold the boy and fight the crowd back. Gradually he fought his way to Gilbert avenue and dragged the youth up the hill while sticks and stones were showered upon him.”

As the anecdote implies, the northern end of Dublin Street, where it met Gilbert Avenue, was a hill, made steeper by every improvement to Gilbert as the main route to tony Walnut Hills. Eventually, Dublin Street ended in an embankment that acted as a dam, pooling rainwater and sewage downhill from Gilbert’s finely paved thoroughfare. The Enquirer [31 May 1871] reports the effects of one storm:

“The water rose rapidly on Dublin street, flooding the floors of most of the houses on a level with the street to the depth of ten or twelve inches, and pouring in torrents down into the basements in the rear, which are used by the poor residents in this locality for kitchens and sleeping-rooms.”

A pioneering sociologist, Wallace E. Miller, reported on his inspection of Dublin Street, part of a comprehensive look at the city’s “tenement districts.” According to the Enquirer [15 March 1902]:

“This district,” says Prof. Miller, “is popularly known as ‘Dublin Street,’ partly because of the predominance there of people of Irish extraction. The ground is very low. The drainage is very poor, indeed. The street is never dry. The houses for the most part are frame buildings that are not kept up to the standard either of comfort or appearance. The surroundings are not conducive to health either in summer or winter.”

When Dublin Street residents appealed to the city for relief, they were met with undisguised scorn. After years of requests for some sort of attention, whether a set of stairs to climb up to Gilbert Avenue, or more capacious culverts to drain pooled floodwaters, Dublin Street residents asked for an embankment to keep the Gilbert Avenue hill from sliding into their back yards. City Councilman William E. Patterson even accused Dublin Street grocer Florence McCarthy of theft because he had rebuilt his house on stilts to avoid the flooding. According to the Enquirer [22 June 1890] Councilman Patterson laughed:

“McCarthy, you’re a robber. Here you shove up a house on sticks and then ask me to have the city slide a lot under it. You’re the first man I ever saw that would steal dirt. I’ll not vote for it.”

What the city eventually did vote for was a viaduct to connect the downtown to Gilbert Avenue. It took years to decide on the route and to condemn properties along the way, and to agree on the contractor, but every alternative concurred on one item: Dublin Street would be wiped from the map. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune [17 July 1909] exposed the city’s ulterior motive:

“It has been decided to condemn all the property in Dublin street, although all of it is not needed. The part not needed will be used for a park or a playground, it is said.”

When Dublin Street disappeared, there was no record of anyone shedding a tear. There is, today, a park in the general vicinity of the old Dublin Street. It’s for dogs.

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