The Harlot’s Progress, William Hogarth’s (1697–1764)

In the mid-nineteenth century brothels were commonplace in Ireland and could be run in relative peace without the law interfering unless they gained notoriety, as in the case below, for violent behaviour or public annoyance. In 1845, there were said to be 16 brothels in Post Office Lane alone. (ref. Limerick Reporter 11 Mar 1845)

Limerick Reporter and Tipperary Vindicator 28 October 1859

City Quarter Sessions:

Margaret or Meg Sheehy, a stout middle aged woman, was placed at the bar charged with assaulting a woman named Margaret Maher, in a house of ill fame in Westland street, and also with keeping a disorderly house. It appeared that the parties were prostitutes and the prisoner was the proprietress of the said house where the prosecutrix was in bed.

Mr. Hayes, inspector of the night watch, Constable O’Brien, of Henry street, and a few others witnesses were examined, to prove that there was disorder in the house, and that it was notoriously a bad one. The prosecutrix proved the assault and the character of the house.

Mr. Patk Murphy, sessional crown prosecutor, examined the witnesses, and Mr. Keogh, barrister, defended the prisoner.

His worship on charging the jury and recapitulating the evidence said there was no proof of any grievous assault, but there was evidence to go to a jury as to her keeping a brothel.

The jury returned a verdict on the count that the prisoner kept a house of ill fame, and the court sentenced her to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour, and ordered her to pay a fine of 20/ to her Majesty, or in default thereof, to be imprisoned for an additional year – it being the second time she was indicted for a similar offence.

Judith Flanders writes a very interesting article on nineteenth century prostitution in England, though this would also translate to Ireland.