Sunday, 23 September 2012


There are few of us who haven't heard of Workhouses, but have you ever seen inside one? Come along and listen to Mrs. Hogan, a passionate lady, who is intent on keeping the memory of the Irish Workhouses and their inmates alive. 

This is the Birr Workhouse, built on a very similar style to many others... let Mrs. Hogan tell the story...

The Workhouse in Ireland

Although workhouses had existed in Ireland before the system created by the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838, their use was on a much smaller scale than was the case in England and Wales.

The Eighteenth Century

In 1703 an Act of the Irish Parliament provided for the setting up of a House of Industry in Dublin 'for the employment and maintaining the poor thereof' (O'Connor, 1995). A workhouse was subsequently erected on land at the south-west of James's Street and was administered by 'The Governor and Guardians of the Poor' whose members included the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor, the Lord Chancellor, the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and members of the Corporation. This body, which met monthly, had powers to place people in the workhouse, and to discipline those already there if they disobeyed workhouse regulations. Punishments could include flogging, imprisonment or deportation.
The main classes of inmate were 'sturdy beggars', 'disorderly women', the old and infirm, and orphan children. Up to 100 men and 60 women slept in bunk-like beds crammed into the workhouse cellars which were 240 feet (75 metres) long by 17 feet (5 metres) wide. The diet was made up of bread, milk, porridge, gruel, and 'burgoo' which was oatmeal in cold water seasoned with salt and pepper.
The Governors also provided care for abandoned children aged between 5 and 16, and could apprentice them out. A further Act in 1730 extended this role to cover all foundling children and a substantial part of the workhouse was allocated to this, with the workhouse becoming the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse of the City of Dublin. At one of its gates, a basket was fixed to a revolving door. Someone wishing to leave a child anonymously could place it there, ring the porter's bell, and then depart.

To read the rest of the article, including details of the Ennis workhouse, 
which was called a House of Industry 
please go to

Birr Workhouse is believed to be the most intact and least altered of the workhouses designed by George Wilkinson before the Great Famine. More ->

There were workhouses all over Ireland and in the United Kingdom. Australia and Canada were both seen as places to send Irish 'orphan' girls as explained in the video and on the site above. Here in Australia, we do commemorate these girls as they do in Canada. There are further links in the story above which will lead you to more details of the lives of these never to be forgotten souls.

 Thank you to Larry Brennan, from Clare Roots Society, 
for guiding me to this story.

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