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Big Houses In Ireland-
The Servant's Life

Any one of the average size big houses in Ireland had a servant staff of around twenty servants. Servants were needed for all household tasks from work on the farm to cleaning to cooking to laundry to assisting Madam and Sir.

Victorian ovens at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon Ireland.

The Victorian ovens at Strokestown Park House took a lot of labour to keep going and maintain.

  • The scullery maid was the lowest of the servants and probably worked the hardest, her duties included scrubbing floors in the service quarters for example.
  • Kitchen maid or maids were doing menial kitchen work.
  • The cook was in charge of delivering the menu given by the lady of the house.
  • Laundry maids did the laundry by hand and ironed using heavy cast iron irons. They worked in very difficult conditions.
  • Housemaids scoured the floors inside the big house and were in charge of drawing the curtains and lighting fires.
  • The butler would oversee the setting of tables and serving of meals, as well as oversee the staff along with the housekeeper. The butler was also in charge of the safe.
  • Footmen polished shoes, served meals and drinks, helped the lord and lady to sit down at the dining table, and they were responsible for light duties such as serving meals and drinks, and accompanying the lord and lady in the carriage. Generally speaking they had to look good and do a lot of standing around!
  • The parlour maid was responsible for the drawing room among other in-house duties.
Chamber pot at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Chamber pots were emptied by the chamber pot boy.

  • The female housekeeper was in charge of the female servants organising the entire household.
  • The valet and lady’s maid were their masters’ personal assistants helping sir and madam with dressing, washing, and chamber pots.
  • The chamber pots were then collected outside their quarters by a chamber pot boy.
  • The head gardener was a higher servant also. He managed the gardens and orchard.
  • The governess taught and minded the lordships’ children.
The school room at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The school room at Strokestown Park House. The lordships' children were taught by a governess.

This Is What Life Was Like For Servants At The Big Houses In Ireland:

  • Generally at Irish country houses, servants were working six and a half days to seven days a week. They might have two days off at Christmas.
  • The lower servants, especially the female servants, were working extremely hard. Twelve hour days were not the exception.
  • Pay, of course, was dependent on where you were in the servants’ hierarchy.
Kitchen implements at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, Ireland.
  • Senior servant staff were often brought in from England because sir and madam wanted Protestants in those roles.
  • Some servants never met their employers.
  • But they were afraid of their superiors, the butler and housekeeper who were tough managers.
  • Although big houses had their own dark rooms and a lot of photographs were taken, none of these document the lives of servants or in the servants’ quarters.
  • A lot of the servants lives centred around the kitchen which was the hub of these residences. The gentry family however would never set foot in the kitchen.
Butter churn at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Butter churn at Strokestown Park House.

Rules For Servants At English Stately Homes And Irish Big Houses:

  • Being a servant was a live-in position. That meant as long as you were in service you would typically not get married. Female servants left employment after marriage. The odd higher male servant, such as a butler, might stay on. Romantic relationships among the staff were forbidden.
  • The servant quarters where they stayed were typically bare and cold. Servants might be housed in the basement, or in a separate wing.
  • In the presence of madam and sir, servants were not to touch any furniture but had to stand separately.
  • Servants were fed simple foods, such as a meal of a staple, perhaps with some cheap fish, or bread and meat for a generous meal.
  • Servants kept to the servant quarters and the kitchen, unless their tasks explicitly dictated they had to enter the main part of the house.
  • When working in the house, servants were supposed to be busy, yet quiet, avoiding making any noise while walking.
  • Servants were never to speak to the family unless they were addressed.
  • Servants had very clear roles and all interaction with the madam and sir were to be kept within the bounds of their role.
The servant's tunnel at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Servants were hidden from view by varying means. At Strokestown Park House, they had to move through the servants' tunnel in order not to be seen by the gentry.

  • Among the servants, there was a strict hierarchy with the butler and house keeper at the top. They were in charge of all the other servants. The higher servants ate at a separate table or even in a different room, and socialised separately as well. Often, senior servants in the Irish big houses were English Protestants, a fact that could cause tensions among the staff.
  • Servants were mostly kept out of sight of the gentry. They used the back doors only. Some estates (e.g. Strokestown, Rockingham) even had servant tunnels that connected the servant quarters to the family quarters, see one on the photo above.

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