Susy Nagle and her concertina skirt

U 10.385: If I could get that dressmaker to make a concertina skirt like Susy Nagle’s. They kick out grand. Shannon and the boatclub swells never took his eyes off her.

Don Gifford makes the reasonable suggestion that Susy Nagle is related to Dublin’s most prominent Nagle family, the three brothers Joe, Patrick, and John, sons of Alderman John Nagle (d. 1888), who ran their businesses – including a public house - out of No 25 Earl Street North, off O’Connell Street. This short article looks principally at who Susy Nagle was, and why she might be remembered for her concertina dress.

Susy Nagle was born Susanna Neagle (or Nagle) on 5 January 1871, the youngest daughter of Denis Nagle and Mary Fitzsimons on 84 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin. The couple had been married since 1859. Susanna’s father was a member of the DMP, the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also owned and let out a number of premises, mostly north of the river in central Dublin. In the late 1870s Denis became ill; the houses plunged into a neglected and insanitary condition, and in due course Denis died on 26 October 1880, ‘at his residence’, 134 Upper Dorset Street. Susy Nagle and her family were not related to the Nagles of Earl Street North, and there was no one in that family who would fit the bill.

Denis's wife Mary continued as a provisions dealer in Dorset Street (Thom’s Directory, 1884), but little or nothing is heard of her daughter Susanna in the newspapers at the time.

By 1892 we seem to catch sight of her, on tour with an Irish dramatic company performing for a week at Stacey’s Theatre in Sheffield. Miss Maud Vernon’s group put on F. C. Harcourt’s Clear the Way; or Faugh-a-Ballago:

the author appearing with great success as Larry O’Larrigan, a typical ‘rale broth of a bhoy’. Mr James Poole was a firm representative of Dennis O’Connor, and great versatility was shown by Mr Arthur Armfield in the dual characters of Mickey M‘Evoy and Sergeant Maloney. Messrs Henry Earlsmere, Chas. Lever, Cuthbert O’Hara, Bernard Webb, and Felix Neville were all excellent, and Miss Emma Poole as Kathleen, Miss Maud Vernon as Nora, Miss Adelaide Evers as Mona, Miss Wayland as Lady Fitzclare, and Miss Susie Nagle as Mrs O’Connor were thoroughly efficient.

Era (1892) 23 July

By now Denis’s widow Mary Nagle and her family had moved further out of the centre of Dublin to Jones’s Road, on the edge of Croke Park. Perhaps this is them arriving back from a trip to England:

Arrivals at Kingstown per Royal Mail steamers - [...] Mrs and Miss Nagle, [etc.].

1893 Freeman’s Journal (1893) 27 March

Whatever the case, here is Susanna setting up shop as a dressmaker a month later:

Dressmaking; wanted Apprentices and Improvers. Apply Miss Nagle, 10 Jones’ road.

Freeman’s Journal (1893) 28 April

The ‘concertina skirt’ is coming closer! Thom’s Directory for 1894 has the family at 10 Jones’s Road, under the name of her elder brother John, a clerk with the Post Office in Dublin. By 1896 she has upgraded her shop to Talbot Street, nearer the centre of town:

Miss Nagle, Dressmaker and Ladies’ Tailor; Ladies’ own Materials fashionably made and perfect fit guaranteed; Evening Costumes a speciality; terms very moderate. Dress Warerooms, 90 Talbot street, City.

Freeman’s Journal (1896) 17 November

And in 1899 she marries another member of the DMP, Felix O’Hanlon – losing the surname ‘Nagle’ before the events of Bloomsday:

O’Hanlon and Nagle. September 26, 1899, at St Agatha’s R C Church, North William street, by Rev Father O’Malley, PP, Felix O’Hanlon, [of Castle Barracks] second son of late Patrick O’Hanlon, Greenore, Co Louth, to Susanna (Susie [printed Sueie]), youngest daughter of the late Denis Nagle, 24 Jones’s road, Drumcondra.

Freeman’s Journal (1899) 30 September

For the 1901 census, Felix and Susie, Susie’s widowed mother and her brother John and Denis are all living at No 24 Jones’ Road, and Susie has her first child, the baby Mary Agatha., with her. The dressmaking business seems to disappear with the birth of Susie’s baby.

The concertina skirt

The OED cites Ulysses for its only example of the expression ‘concertina skirt’. In fact, the style (clustered pleats, easily kicked up for effect while dancing) had been around under this name since at least the latter end of the nineteenth century. The Freeman’s Journal for 8 April 1886 offers an article of ‘Irish Manufactures’, and uses the ‘concertina skirt’ as a model that can be made quite easily from native Irish fabrics:

Vice-Regal Garden Party […] Irish-made dress material […] As promised in our article yesterday, we now proceed to suggest a variety of garments which may be readily constructed from Irish fabrics […] We shall consider ourselves amply rewarded for any trouble we have taken, if within the next few days we see some of the suggestions put into shape and making their appearance in the shop windows of our dressmaking establishments.

In the accompanying illustration (found by Harald Beck) the skirt is made up for a child, and the pleating is indistinct. The Birmingham Daily Post of 6 September 1893 reports the skirt making its appearance in the House of Lords:

Parliamentary notes. House of Commons, Tuesday Night. The House of Lords was a sight to see at half-past four o’clock […] The concertina skirt was displayed by one or two of the titled dames.

Earlier in 1893 Susie Nagle had set up as a dressmaker in Dublin. She seems to have been associated with the new fashion of the concertina skirt.

John Simpson

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