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The Workhouse in Ireland

Todays Date:  
 
   

Given the abject poverty in Ireland in the 1800's the Government responded with The Irish Poor law Act of 1838 to set about dividing the Country into Unions based on existing Electoral Divisions. There was a board of Guardians for each Union, and a Workhouse to be built in each Union. A poor-rate was to be collected to finance the running of each poor house.

Many types of people entered the workhouse. Some were to old or ill to be
able to support themselves in the outside work. Others might loose there
farm and means of income and be forced to enter the Workhouse. Having a baby outside of Marriage was something society shunned at the time, and unmarried mothers were more often than not forced to see refuge in the Workhouse. The mentally ill were also often housed here.




Workhouse Life during the famine


With the arrival of the famine in 1846 conditions that were already poor,
rapidly deteriorated. Entire families, whose potato crop had failed, would
be evicted from their holding. So,  with nowhere to live and no food, entire
families went to the workhouse. They became filled much higher than there
capacity. The situation worsened with some Unions unable to collect
sufficient rates for the increased demand in food. And many collapsed under the financial strain.


Typhus spread in cramped conditions, so those that may have entered healthy seeking some sort of refuge would ironically be killed through the disease.

A large number of children ended up alone in the Workhouse. Some families were so desperately low on food that the only hope for the survival of the child was for them to enter the Work House. In some cases there family had emigatred and would leave children behind until they had a chance to establish themselves in a new country before arranging for the passage of the child to a new land.

A quarter acre clause was introduced  whereby anybody with more than 1/4
acre had to surrender their land before entering the Workhouse.



So what type of records exist, if you are researching family you belive may have spent time in a Workhouse.

Workhouse Registration Books:
Those receiving relief would be recorded here giving; Name, Sex, age,
details of famaily, Date admitted and Date they died or left the workhouse.

Any births and deaths were also recorded.

Vaccination Register:
As disease was rampant in the workhouse, especially during famine times
vaccinations were used to try and control the situation. Records exist for
those vaccinated including such as name and date of the event.

See the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland  for some records; http://proni.nics.gov.uk/records/poor_law.htm
where you will find details of Admission and Discharge registers show those
entering and leaving the workhouse, as well as births and deaths occurring
within the workhouse.

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