Workhouse History

In the early 1840's, the population of Ireland was almost 8¾ million - at least 2½ million of whom were destitute, primarily due to unemployment resulting in evictions by landlords.  Carrickmacross Workhouse was one of 130 Workhouses built throughout Ireland between 1841 and 1843 to house the impoverished; hence the Irish name of Teach na mBocht - The Poorhouse. 

People had to apply for admission to the Workhouse and successful applicants had to surrender any land before entering as ‘inmates’.  The first persons were admitted to Carrickmacross Workhouse on 11th February 1843.  Once admitted, they were subjected to a strict regime - families were segregated and forbidden from seeing each other without permission; their diet was meagre and unvarying; there was little heat or comfort; plus, difficult, and often pointless, work had to be undertaken.  These deliberately harsh conditions meant that Workhouses quickly became known as the Poor Man’s Jail, and people only applied for admission as their last resort.

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In 1520, Catholics, both Irish and Anglo-Norman, owned 100% of the land.  However, by the 1800s, after 3 centuries of plantations, confiscations, evictions, Penal Laws and colonialism, approximately 95% of the land belonged to English and Anglo-Irish landlords, with the native Irish as their tenants.  As tenants, they grew massive quantities of agricultural produce and livestock, which they had to sell to pay their rent, or face eviction.  This left the majority of the native population solely dependent on potatoes for food, as they were cheap to purchase; could be grown in small plots of poor soil; and were high in nutrition.

Then, for a number of years from 1845, blight destroyed the potato harvest across Europe.  The British Government sent at least 14,000 additional troops to Ireland to protect the thousands of tonnes of other grains, vegetables and animals being exported by landlords for profit.

This resulted in The Great Hunger, An Gorta Mór, and the desperate begged for admission to Workhouses.  Carrickmacross Workhouse was built accommodate 500, however, by 1851, nearly 2,000 men, women and children were documented in the building plus auxiliary houses around Carrickmacross.

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Due to the large numbers of children in Workhouses, many of whom were orphaned by The Great Hunger, the English Government’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Grey, devised the Pauper’s Emigration Scheme.  Under this scheme, between 1848 and 1850, 4,114 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 were emigrated from Irish Workhouses to Australia as wives and servants of the settlers and convicts there.  We have discovered the names of 19 of the 38 girls sent to Australia from Carrickmacross Workhouse - more information is available at www.irishfaminememorial.org

 

Of the 38 girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse:

* 14 sailed on the ‘Roman Emperor’ to Adelaide

* 24 sailed on the ‘John Knox’ to Sydney

 

‘Roman Emperor’

 

* Departed Ireland 15th July 1848

* Arrived Adelaide 23rd October 1848

* Carried 14 girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse

* As per Minutes of Meeting of Workhouse Board of Guardians on 1st July 1848:

‘... list of female inmates selected... for emigration to Australia from Carrickmacross Workhouse [totals] 14 in number...’

* Shipping List does not identify girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse

 

‘John Knox’

 

* Departed Ireland 19th December 1849

* Arrived Sydney 29th April 1850

* Carried 24 girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse

* As per Minutes of Meeting of Workhouse Board of Guardians on 1st December 1849:

‘... 24 girls selected for emigration to Australia were announced to be ready for departure...’

* Shipping List records the names of 19 girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse; names of remaining 5 girls are currently unknown

 

19 girls from Carrickmacross Workhouse on ‘John Knox’ Shipping List

Name

Age

Native Place

Parents

Catherine Byrne

18

Carrickmacross

Bernard and Catherine - both dead

Catherine Callaghan

17

Carrickmacross

Joseph, dead, and Rose, alive

Mary Fee

18

Carrickmacross

Henry, dead, and Ann, alive

Agnes Fox

14

Carrickmacross

Charles and Mary - both dead

Catherine Fox

16

Carrickmacross

Charles and Mary - both dead

Bridget Gollegly

17

Carrickmacross

Peter and Mary - both dead

Mary Hanratty

17

Carrickmacross

Brien and Nancy - both dead

Ann Lennon

16

Carrickmacross

Michael and Catherine - both dead

Elizabeth McDonnell

16

Carrickmacross

Thomas and Alice - both dead

Mary McGovern

17

Killanny

Owen and Catherine - both dead

Bridget McKeon

17

Carrickmacross

Patrick and Esther - both dead

Margaret Magee

15

Carrickmacross

George and Mary - both dead

Catherine Magee

17

Carrickmacross

George and Mary - both dead

Mary Power

15

Magheracloone

Patrick and Ann - both dead

Mary Sheanon

14

Carrickmacross

James and Ellen - both dead

Rose Sherry

17

Carrickmacross

Patrick and Catherine - both dead

Bridget Shoolan

17

Carrickmacross

Peter and Anne - both dead

Margaret White

17

Carrickmacross

Owen, dead, and Mary, alive

Ann Wheldon

16

Carrickmacross

Owen, dead, and Ann, alive

 

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Death and emigration, whether voluntary, assisted or forced, gradually reduced numbers in the Workhouses until only the poor, sick and elderly remained.  At their first meeting on 21st January 1919, the newly formed Dáil Éireann abolished the ‘odious, degrading and foreign Poor Law [Workhouse] System’.

An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger, proved a watershed in Irish history, permanently changing our island’s demographic, political and cultural landscape.  Within 10 years, 1841 to 1851, at least 1 million people died from starvation and disease, and at least 1 million emigrated, primarily to America, Australia, Canada and England.  Mass emigration continued for decades, reducing our population from almost 8¾ million in the early 1840s to less than 4½ million in the 1901 Census.

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By the 21st century, an estimated 70 million people worldwide claimed some Irish descent, and Ireland’s bond with her diaspora has been acknowledged since our second Constitution in 1937.  Article 2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann states that, ‘…the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’

Carrickmacross Workhouse is now restored into a Community Resource, Training and Heritage Centre.