Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

Search This Blog

Friday, February 18, 2011

Irish Workhouses


Donaghamore Agriculture Museum
The Workhouse System in Ireland

According to Aengus O Snodaigh© 1997 The Irish People:

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 123workhouses 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 manyburial 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, incommon 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 t, 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 feinigagus chun a lucht leanuna, agus ni raibh le fail ag na 'paupers' bhochta ach an caolchuid -- 'an ceann ba chaoile den bheathaagus 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 anIrish landlord himself, said:
"Any great improvement in the social system in Ireland must be founded upon an extensive change inthe 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, ordisease, 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.

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
29--------Cork----------------158,339--------------Cork-----------------03 Apr 39
30--------Athlone--------------73,052--------------Rosc & WMeath----03 Apr 39
31--------Strabane-------------62,084--------------Tyr & Donegal------08 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--------03 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
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------06-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
53------Kells--------------------40,497--------------Meath, Cav, WM----08-Jul-39
56------Dungannon-------------66,075--------------Tyrone----------------20 Jul 39
58------Scariff-------------------47,894--------------Clare, Galway---------25-Jul-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
65-----Ardee-------------------42,035--------------Louth & Meath-------21-Aug-39
66-----Cookstown-------------44,624--------------Tyrone----------------22 Aug 39
67-----Carrick on Shannon---66,858--------------Leitrim, Rosc---------24-Aug-39
68-----Manor Hamilton------40,742---------------Leitrim---------------30-Aug-39
69-----Newtown Ards---------53,873---------------Down----------------03 Sep 39
70-----Mohill-------------------63,715---------------Leitrim--------------05 Sep 39
72-----Roscommon------------80,608--------------Rosc & Galway-------13-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
78-----Mullingar----------------68,102--------------Westmeath------------22 Oct 39
81------Ballinrobe--------------74,842---------------Mayo & Galway-------07 Nov 39
82-----Castleblaney------------56,505---------------Mon & Armagh-------08-Nov-39
83-----Castlebar----------------58,001---------------Mayo------------------09 Nov 39
84-----Baillieborough----------41,414----------------Cavan & Meath-------20-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--------07 Dec 39
94------Kanturk-----------------71,844--------------Cork, Kerry------------21-Dec-39
95------Downpatrick------------80,642--------------Down------------------03 Jan 40
96------Oldcastle----------------44,221---------------Meath,WMeath,Cav-06 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
103-----Swineford---------------65,965--------------Mayo,Sligo-------------02 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
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
123----Donegal----------------------32,928------------Donegal----------------07 Nov 40
125----Athy--------------------------50,907------------Kild, Qns---------------16 Jan 41
126----Clogher-----------------------38,855-----------Tyr, Monagh-----------17-Apr-41
129----Dunfanaghy------------------15,793------------Donegal----------------not decl
130----Glenties-----------------------31,752------------Donegal----------------not decl

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

No comments:

Post a Comment