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Irish Unions

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Poor Law Unions in Ireland
Research in Ireland
The Workhouse System in Ireland
Law of Removal
Useful Links

Irish Removals

Return of a few Cases illustrative of the Hardships to the Irish
Poor in the Operation of the Law of Removal.p 758 Appendix No 4

10 Cases named:

Thomas Galvin June 1875 West Derby Parsonstown
Daniel M'Mahon Aug 1875 Dumfries Kilrush
Thomas Hunt Sept 1875 Bolton Parsonstown
Bridget Parker Dec 1875 Leeds Ennis
Mary A Slattery June 1876 Nottingham Limerick
Michael Morissy Sept 1877 Liverpool Nenagh
Alice Curton Nov 1877 Barrow, Lancs Armagh
Patrick Hough Sept 1878 Ayr Nenagh
Anthy Campbell Mar 1879 Wapping Limerick
Michael O'Hara May 1879 Glasgow Banbridge

Bridget Parker Dec 1875 Leeds Ennis
This was a washerwoman who had lived in Leeds for several years
and supported herself. Being taken ill she applied for relief,
and was admitted to Leeds Hospital on the 24th November, and on the 2nd December taken from her bed and hurried, half-dressed, to the police office, where a warrant was obtained for her removal to
Ennistymon Union; and in due time arrived in Ireland and was left
in Ennis Union, contrary to the terms of the order.

Anthy Campbell Mar 1879 Wapping Limerick
Removed from Wapping to Limerick, by order dated as in margin, at
the age of 54. His father and mother lived in Stepney. He was 
employed in the dockyard, and she kept a chandler's shop. The father being a native of Limerick, used occasionally to visit it, and on
one of these occasions his son Anthony was born, and when only a
few days old went back with his parents to Stepney.
There he lived for 18 years, when he emigrated with his brother to
Buenos Ayres, and remained there until 1879, when he returned to
Stepney, and having applied for relief in the February of that year,
was removed to the place of his birth, Limerick.

Source: From Parliamentary Papers PP 1878/79 Vol XII 
282 Report from the Select Committee on Poor Removal,
with Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence,
and Appendix and Index pp 561-805
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

Poor Law Unions in Ireland

7th Report of the Poor Law Commissioners 1841

Appendix E 10 pp 466-468 
List of Unions in Ireland showing extent, population etc

A new total of 130 Unions 

 No  Union Population Counties Date
23  Callan 42,707  Kilk & Tipp 27-Mar-39
24  Thurles 64,237  Tipp 28-Mar-39
25  Dungarvan 57,634  Waterford  28 Mar 39
26  Lismore 34,382  Waterford  30 Mar 39
27  Dunshaughlin 22,240  Meath & Dublin 01-Apr-39
28  Balrothery 28,124  Dublin 01-Apr-39
29  Cork 158,339  Cork  3 Apr 39
30  Athlone 73,052  Rosc & WMeath  3 Apr 39
31  Strabane 62,084  Tyr & Donegal  8 Apr 39
32  Waterford 79,694  Waterfd & Kilk 20-Apr-39
33  Armagh 107,145  Arm & Tyr  25 Apr 39
34  Newry 88,181  Down & Arm  3 May 39
35  Edenderry 35,536  Kings,Kild,Mea 07-May-39
36  Gortin 17,315  Tyrone 07-May-39
37  Castle Derg 21,295  Tyrone 07-May-39
38  Roscrea 64,374  Tipp, King, Qns 08-May-39
39  Parsonstown 71,138  Kings, Tipp 08-May-39
40  Omagh 66,388  Tyrone 09-May-39
41  Longford 85,152  Longfd & Rosc 13-May-39
42  Trim 31,758  Meath & Kild  22 May 39
43  Galway 81,129  Galway  22 May 39
44  Carrick on Suir 40,259  Tipp, Wat, Kilk 25-May-39
45  Ballinasloe 97,581  Galway & Rosc  6 Jun 39
46  North Dublin 125,245  Dublin 06-Jun-39
47  South Dublin 182,767  Dublin 06-Jun-39
48  Dundalk 63,911  Louth, Arm,Mon 18-Jun-39
49  Drogheda 49,681  Louth & Meath 18-Jun-39
50  Navan 34,482  Meath 25-Jun-39
51  Ennis 71,807  Clare 27-Jun-39
52  Kilkenny 115,074  Kilkenny 01-Jul-39
53  Kells 40,497  Meath, Cav, WM 08-Jul-39
54  Shillelagh 31,596  Wicklow,CArlow 12-Jul-39
55  Sligo 109,561  Sligo 17-Jul-39
56  Dungannon 66,075  Tyrone  20 Jul 39
57  Kilrush 70,676  Clare 23-Jul-39
58  Scariff 47,894  Clare, Galway 25-Jul-39
59  Kilkeel 26,833  Down 29-Jul-39
60  Ennistymon 49,637  Clare 03-Aug-39
61  Rathdown 39,933  Dublin, Wicklow 08-Aug-39
62  Cootehill 63,472  Cavan, Mon 10-Aug-39
63  Gort 38,342  Galway & Clare 20-Aug-39
64  Boyle 65,562  Rosc,Mayo,Sligo 20-Aug-39
65  Ardee 42,035  Louth & Meath 21-Aug-39
66  Cookstown 44,624  Tyrone  22 Aug 39
67  Carrick on Shannon 66,858  Leitrin, Rosc 24-Aug-39
68  Manor Hamilton 40,742  Leitrim 30-Aug-39
69  Newtown Ards 53,873  Down  3 Sep 39
70  Mohill 63,715  Leitrim  5 Sep 39
71  Loughrea 61,747  Galway 05-Sep-39
72  Roscommon 80,608  Rosc & Galway 13-Sep-39
73  Castlerea 85,895  Rosc,Mayo,Galway 14-Sep-39
74  Tullamore 52,852  Kings, WMeath 16-Sep-39
75  Tuam 74,155  Galway  19 Sep 39
76  Newtown Limvady 41,031  Lond 21-Sep-39
77  Rathdrum 51,689  Wicklow 25-Sep-39
78  Mullingar 68,102  Westmeath  22 Oct 39
79  Monaghan 69,137  Monaghan 04-Nov-39
80  Carrickmacross 36,927  Monaghan 05-Nov-39
81  Ballinrobe 74,842  Mayo & Galway  7 Nov 39
82  Castleblaney 56,505  Mon & Armagh 08-Nov-39
83  Castlebar 58,001  Mayo  9 Nov 39
84  Baillieborough 41,414  Cavan & Meath 20-Nov-39
85  Baltinglass 39,646  Wickl,Dub,Kild 21-Nov-39
86  Magherafeldt 74,542  Lond 25-Nov-39
87  Cavan 82,694  Cavan 27-Nov-39
88  Coleraine 50,940  Lond & Antrim 28-Nov-39
89  Abbeyleix 35,597  Queen, Kilk 03-Dec-39
90  Mountmelick 63,601  Queens, Kings  7 Dec 39
91  Gorey 36,083  Wexford 14-Dec-39
92  Dunmanway 30,138  Cork 18-Dec-39
93  Macroom 53,166  Cork 20-Dec-39
94  Kanturk 71,844  Cork, Kerry 21-Dec-39
95  Downpatrick 80,642  Down  3 Jan 40
96  Oldcastle 44,221  Meath,WMeath,Cav  6 Jan 40
97  Ballymoney 51,869  Ant, Lond  18 Jan 40
98  Enniscorthy 57,735  Wexford, Carlow 22-Jan-40
99  Clones 36,569  Mon, Fermanagh 08-Feb-40
100  New Ross 67,944  Wex,Kilk,Carlow  23 Mar 40
101  Listowel 65,198  Kerry 27-Mar-40
102  Tralee 84,374  Kerry 30-Mar-40
103  Swineford 65,965  Mayo,Sligo  2 Apr 40
104  Ballycastle 26,453  Antrim  11 Apr 40
105  Ballymena 66,964  Antrim  13 May 40
106  Larne 35,695  Antrim  13 May 40
107  Antrim 47,048  Antrim  13 May 40
108  Granard 52,152  L/fd,Cav W/Mea 30-May-40
109  Wexford 48,802  Wexford 10-Jun-40
110  Ballyshannon 40,780  Don,Leit, Ferm 15-Jun-40
111  Lisnaskea 33,868  Fermanagh  27 Jun 40
112  Ballina 115,030  Mayo, Sligo 03-Jul-40
113  Westport 77,512  Mayo 13-Jul-40
114  Enniskillen 68.694  Ferm, Cav Tyr 10-Aug-40
115  Clifden 28,639  Galway  17 Aug 40
116  Lowtherstown 32,198  Ferm, Tyr, Don 14-Sep-40
117  Carlow 74,727  Carlow Qns Kild 14-Sep-40
118  Killarney 56,227  Kerry 18-Sep-40
119  Inishowen 43,238  Donegal 18-Sep-40
120  Cahirciveen 26,785  Kerry 19-Sep-40
121  Kenmare 29,152  Kerry 21-Sep-40
122  Bantry 46,668  Cork 28-Sep-40
123  Donegal 32,928  Donegal  7 Nov 40
124  Stranorlar 23,459  Donegal 10-Dec-40
125  Athy 50,907  Kild, Qns  16 Jan 41
126  Clogher 38,855  Tyr, Monagh 17-Apr-41
127  Letterkenny 25,322  Donegal 28-Aug-41
128  Milford 29,230  Donegal 27-Sep-41
129  Dunfanaghy 15,793  Donegal not decl
130  Glenties 31,752  Donegal not decl

Source: 7th Report of the Poor Law Commissioners 1841
England, Wales and Ireland with Appendices pp 1-543
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

Research in Ireland

Ireland National Archives 

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland 

GENUKI: Ireland Pages 

Irish Workhouse Records  

The Workhouse System in Ireland

The "workhouse" system was imposed on Ireland despite opposition across the board. During the Famine years, thousands died within the workhouses. Other unfortunates, denied admission, died outside.

The Poor Law of 1838 had been aimed at providing accommodation for the absolutely destitute, and by 1845, there were 123
workhouses in Ireland, paid for by a poor tax levied on local landlords and, like other taxes in Ireland, passed on to their tenants. Conditions for entry were so strict, as was life inside, that the workhouses were the very last resort of a destitute people. Able-bodied adults had to work: knitting for women, breaking stones for men. Food was poor--even by mid-19th-century standards set for the Irish--and accommodation was cold, damp, and cramped.

By December 1846, over half the workhouses were full and were having to refuse admittance to new applicants. Few workhouses could cope with such a sharp increase in the intake of paupers, especially sick paupers, and there were widespread shortages of bedding, clothing, and medicine. This led to the practice of giving the clothes of inmates who died of fever or any other disease to new inmates, without first washing the garments. There was even a shortage of coffins, and many
burial sites were situated within the grounds of the workhouse, sometimes next to the water supply.

Despite all these problems, in many unions [administrative districts for providing relief for the poor] the guardians and the workhouse officers attempted to provide relief despite their lack of capital and the various regulations imposed on them. In the winter of 1846-'47, over half of the Boards of Guardians were giving food to paupers who were not residents of the workhouse. This was actually illegal under England's law and was strongly condemned by the Poor Law Commissioners.

The introduction of soup kitchens in 1847 took much of the pressure off the workhouses. As conditions worsened, however, the workhouses became crammed. By February 1847, some 100,000 persons were getting workhouse relief, 63,000 of them children. A report of one workhouse that year states:

"The building we found most dilapidated, and fast advancing to ruin, everything out of repair, the yards undrained and filled, in
common with the cesspools, by accumulation of filth--a violation of all sanitary requirements; fever and dysentery prevailing throughout the house, every ward filthy to a most noisome degree, evolving offensive effluvia; the paupers defectively clothed, and many of those recently admitted continuing in their own rags and impurity; classification and separation set at nought; a general absence of utensils and implements; the dietary not adhered to, and the food given in a half-cooked state--most inadequate, particularly for the sick."

The survivors of the workhouses had this to say about the system:

"Eagoir agus batarail agus cos ar bolg agus ocras a ba saol na mbochtan sa Phoorhouse. Bhiodh na ceanna ag slad chucu feinig
agus chun a lucht leanuna, agus ni raibh le fail ag na 'paupers' bhochta ach an caolchuid -- 'an ceann ba chaoile den bheatha
agus ceann ba ramhaire don bhata'."

With thousands still trying to gain entry into the already over-full workhouses, the newly-elected English government in the summer of 1847 seized its chance. Responding to the usual impatience with the affairs of Ireland on the part of the British middle and upper classes, and to the declining sympathy for the starving which was replaced by the cultural stereotyping of the Irish, the legislators removed the financial "burden" of famine relief from the English electorate's shoulders.

The government announced that the famine was over and stopped financial aid from the Treasury. The poor unions which ran the workhouses were now made responsible for outdoor relief despite the fact that many were already bankrupt. The collection of taxes was nearly impossible, and the richest landlords seemed to be paying least.

The Catholic Dean of Mayo estimated that in his diocese it cost a pound to collect every shilling, a one for twenty return. In 1844 it had been necessary to send 700 soldiers as well as constabulary to collect the poor tax in Galway, and in Mayo the authorities sent a warship, two cruisers, two companies of the 69th Regiment, a troop of the 10th Hussars, 50 police, two inspectors and two magistrates.

The English Chancellor of Exchequer, Charles Wood, justified the tight-fistedness (toward the Irish) on the grounds that
"except through a purgatory of misery and starvation, I cannot see how Ireland is to emerge into anything approaching either quiet or prosperity." Pax Britannica, in other words.

The new poor law saw the demise of the government's experiment in soup kitchens. Though only in place since February 1847, the two thousand or so soup kitchens were at the peak of their operations, feeding over three-million persons a day. Only 50,000 was advanced as a start-up grant; the rest was to be made up by the cash-starved poor unions, which were of course unable to collect appropriate taxes from wealthy absentee landlords. The kitchens gave at best minimal relief and were a haphazard response to the Famine, but at least they were something.

The new law required that those seeking relief must be "destitute poor" and, in a move reminiscent of Penal Days, the Gregory Clause of the act barred those with holdings of more than a quarter of an acre [a patch of about a hundred by a hundred ten feet] from receiving any form of aid. Thus the London government facilitated the clearances of estates for landlords and wiped out a way of life and an entire class of farm laborers. Desperate to hold onto the little they had, thousands died of starvation rather than bow to this new oppression which had been added to their misery.

When it was suggested to William Gregory that the provision would destroy the class of small farmers in Ireland, he replied that
"he did not see of what use such small farmers could possibly be." Palmerston, an influential member of the government and an
Irish landlord himself, said: "Any great improvement in the social system in Ireland must be founded upon an extensive change in
the present state of agrarian occupation, and that this change necessarily implied a long, continued and systematic rejectment of
small holders and of squatting [sic] cottiers."

Even to those who accepted the Gregory Clause conditions, entry into a workhouse was not guaranteed and was often arbitrary, and your stay could be terminated at a whim: "Ranged by the side of the opposite wall [of Nenagh workhouse in County Tipperary], which afforded some shelter from the wind, were about 20 cars, each with its load of eight or ten human beings, some of them in the most dangerous stages of dysentery and fever, others cripples, and all, from debility, old age, or
disease, unable to walk a dozen steps... In the evening some 30 or 40 'paupers' were turned out to make room for an equal number of the crowd, while the rest returned weary and dispirited to the cheerless homes they left in the morning."

The road to the workhouse became known as Cosan na Marbh (pathway of the dead). Up to 25% of those admitted died.
Yet, by 1851, 309,000 persons were in workhouses throughout Ireland, with many more seeking entry or emigrating.

"If the government of Ireland insists upon being a government of dragoons and bombardiers, of detectives and light infantry,
then up with the barricades and invoke this God of Battles-Young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher, March 18, 1848.

By Aengus O Snodaigh
1997 The Irish People. Article may be reprinted with credit.

Useful Links

Link to records held in Northern Ireland

Workhouse staff

Irish medical directory

Irish Workhouse records

Book: The Workhouses in Ireland

Library Holdings in Ireland 

Page last updated 19 December, 2006 by Rossbret