The Irish Poor Law
- In a attempt to combat the ever increasing numbers of destitute people in Ireland the Poor Law was introduced in 1838, Ireland was divided into one hundred and thirty districts called unions. Each union was controlled by a Board of Guardians. Most of the guardians were elected from local farmers, a magistrate was also appointed to each board. The guardians had the right to place a tax on the union, the revenue thus raised was used to build a workhouse and support the local poor. It was generally believed by the middle and upper classes that if people were poor it was because they were lazy. It is interesting to note that these guardians were the first elected local bodies in Ireland
- When any person in the union area needed help, they had to go into the workhouse. This was not a pleasant prospect as conditions in the workhouse were very basic with two meals a day consisting of breakfast of seven oz ( ) of oatmeal and a pint of buttermilk and dinner of three and a half lb. of potatoes and a pint of buttermilk, tea, alcohol and tobacco were not allowed, and meals were to be eaten in silence
- The most inhuman part of the system was that families were segregated, husbands from wives and children from parents, each living in separate houses. The workhouses were laid out on similar lines to a prison. The theory was that the inmates of the workhouse were to earn their keep, the men breaking stones, the women by spinning and knitting. The workhouse was an option people only resorted to when all else had failed, seeing it as a means of survival. The old and sick were probably the exception, finding it more comfortable there than outside. By 1845 eighty thousand workhouse places were available half of which were occupied.
- After the partition of Ireland the south abolished the system, poor house's continued in use in the north until 1946.
- The basic idea of the Workhouse System was that families in dire poverty could enter the workhouse and work for food, thus avoiding death from starvation.
- 163 workhouses were built in Ireland from 1840 to 1858. This was the single biggest building project undertaken in Ireland ever. The workhouse system was an English solution to an Irish problem. It failed
- For generations, the workhouse was barely spoken about. The voices of the nineteenth century destitute were mainly unrecorded.