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
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
be evicted from their holding. So, with nowhere to live
and no food, entire
families went to the workhouse. They became filled much higher
capacity. The situation worsened with some Unions unable to
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,
details of famaily, Date admitted and Date they died or left
Any births and deaths were also recorded.
As disease was rampant in the workhouse, especially
during famine times
vaccinations were used to try and control the situation. Records
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
entering and leaving the workhouse, as well as births and
within the workhouse.