A Dublin saint

Aug 27th, 2011 | By | Category: Ireland

The two roomed flat is the ground floor of a nineteenth century house in Dublin’s Kevin Street. The building would once have stood as part of a row, but its companions on either side have long since disappeared.  Driving down Kevin Street with its constant flow of traffic, it would be easy to fail to notice the front door.

In the hallway, beside the intruder alarm control panel and above the fire extinguisher, a wooden plaque is affixed to the wall:

A.D. 1915

The Tottenham family tree is readily accessible on the Internet.  Florence Sophia was from a Co Clare Protestant family whose house, Mount Callan, took its name from the nearby mountain. Born on 2nd May 1849, she seems never to have married, but rather devoted the majority of her life to serving the poor in this part of Dublin.  The 1911 Census shows Florence and her sisters living in Raheny in North Co Dublin.  They were still people of means, for the three sisters had four resident servants.

Tottenham Florence Sophia 61 Female Head of Family Church of Ireland
Tottenham Alice Rose 57 Female Sister Church of Ireland
Tottenham Amy Beatrice 53 Female Sister Church of Ireland
Ireland Susan 28 Female Servant Church of Ireland
Bray Alice 42 Female Servant Church of Ireland
Taaffe Bridget Mary 23 Female Servant Roman Catholic
Taaffe Mary Frances 19 Female Servant Roman Catholic
Quigley Dorothy 25 Female Visitor Presbyterian

Florence Sophia Tottenham died in 1913 two years after the Census.  Her work was recognised in the building of the dispensary to provide medical care to those who lived in these streets.

Were Florence Tottenham around now, her efforts would probably be described as the efforts of a well meaning amateur by those on the Left or as the interference of a do gooder by the Right. Someone of Miss Tottenham’s means would probably send a subscription, or run a fund raising event; perhaps lend her name as the patron of a charity or write letters to the Irish Times.  How many people would there be who would devote thirty-four years of their life to working in one of the poorest areas of a poor city?

These streets would have been filled with people trapped in the sort of grinding poverty captured in the works of Sean O’Casey; there would be little by way of encouragement or reward for anyone working here.  After years of her work, there must have been moments when Florence Tottenham wondered if anything had improved, yet she kept going.

If the church a century later is to recover a sense of vitality, perhaps it will come in becoming Florence Sophia Tottenhams in our own time; spending years in trying to serve others.


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