Life in towns

A woman living in a town in Ireland in 1500 would probably live in a narrow timber or wattle house roofed with thatch in a narrow street. The family kept pigs and fowl in sheds in their long narrow back garden and there they threw rubbish, grew vegetables and herbs and sometimes drew water from a well. In pre-industrial Ireland, most businesses were family-centred. Business or trade was carried on in the front section of the home and the family lived behind or over the shop.

The few towns that existed in Ireland in 1500 were still medieval in character and mostly on the coast, near the mouths of rivers or inland on navigable rivers. Few original town buildings have survived in their original form except for churches and the occasional house built of stone such as Rothe House, Kilkenny. Urban people were generally loyal to England and the 'native' Irish were often confined to 'Irishtown', a settlement outside the walls.

Towns needed farm produce which was brought in to fairs and markets from the surrounding countryside but movement in and out was controlled by walls and gates. The streets were often described as open sewers, smelly and filthy with wet and dry rubbish. Crime was punished in public with floggings and executions. Fire was a hazard, so it was the custom to rise at daylight and observe a curfew by going to bed at sunset.


  1. Write a paragraph describing life in a town house in Ireland in the early modern period.
  2. Urban people were generally loyal to _____ and the native Irish often ____ to a ____ outside the walls called ____.
  3. Crime was punished by ____ and _____.
  4. Discuss any aspect of life in an early modern town which you would like or dislike, giving reasons for your choice and attitude.


  1. Research life in an early modern town.
  2. Visit a museum of medieval or early modern urban life.
  3. Compose a literary description of a walk through an early modern town capturing the atmosphere through the sights, sounds, smells, movement, etc.
  4. Visit the re-creation of a medieval town at 'Geraldine Tralee'.
  5. Watch a video or film set in early modern times.
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