Posted by: irishhungercomm | September 18, 2010

Irish Workhouses and Mass Grave Sites

Marie Smith met, in July, with Irish Government Minister Pat Carey. The Minister invited her comments and recommendations relative to the Irish workhouses and mass grave sites – these date from the Famine times and are in many parts of Ireland.  The following letter was sent to the Minister by Marie Smith

Minister Pat Carey
Department of Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs
43-49 Mespil Road
Dublin 4, Ireland

September  7, 2010

Dear Minister Carey:

Thank you for meeting with me and my nephew in July and inviting my comments as to how the Irish Government and Tourist Board can encourage the diaspora to return to the land of their heritage and increase their knowledge of an event that placed their ancestors on emigrant ships. Incidentally, Mary, a member of your staff gave me her email and I lost it in my travels around Ireland in search of workhouses and mass grave sites.

Before I submit my recommendations allow me to tell you of my experience in searching for workhouses and mass grave sites. My first visit was to Glasnevin Museum and Cemetery.  What an improvement I found from my last visit – the Trust is doing a wonderful job in cleaning up the grave sites and the museum has all the tools available for research.  I inquired of my guide as to where the famine grave site might be situated, and after being sent in the wrong direction came back, and another guide said the famine grave site was under the Parnell Stone as in order to protect his remains from the body snatchers they placed him in the cholera grave – the souls of the famine victims have protected the Parnell site; however, there is no marker for them on this site.  I then drove to Donghamore workhouse and agricultural museum in Co. Laois opened in 1997 but unpublicized in any of the tourist offices.  This workhouse was built post famine and the mass grave site is close by (photo attached).  The preservation of these existing workhouses which are in every county should be the goal of the Irish Tourist Board and government.  I then drove to Cashel and went to the Irish Tourist office  and inquired where I could visit a workhouse  or mass grave site, the personnel looked at me with curiosity and gave a definitive “no” to my question.  The Donghamore workhouse is only one county east and the personnel have no knowledge of its existence – sad.  I spoke to Liam Phelan at the workhouse of the efforts of building our famine monuments stateside and hope next time I visit,  to see tourist buses at this site.  In Ballyvaughan workhouse and mass grave site is a sports playing field with no markers or plaques.  In Westport the workhouse is a housing development and the bodies are buried in a quarry.  In Ballina the workhouse is now a hospital but it does have a marker dedicatd in 1995 by former American Ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith, and outside of Ballina, the remains of a former workhouse.  The last time I visited Doolough, Co. Mayo, there was a celtic cross as a memorial to the famine victims drowned in the lough.  This has now been replaced by  (see photo) not an improvement on the previous memorial, you will agree.  The Letterkenny workhouse is now their museum and its mass grave site has been removed to land outside the city, the plot is overgrown and the grass so high the grave stone is obliterated.  The Doagh famine village at Inishowen is in need of improvement and funding; however, there were many tourist buses from Belfast and England visiting.  The only exhibit that impressed me was at Strokestown.  I had visited Strokestown on previous occasions but this time their development of the exhibit was impressive due to the dedication of their curator and staff.  Strokestown is overlooked by U.S. and English touring companies and I wonder, why?

It is our sincere hope that in your watch you will follow in the foot steps of Eamonn DeValera who set up the Irish Folklore Commission to collect the stories of the famine, and then continued by the Famine Commemoration Commission of 1995.  The Diaspora is seeking a conclusion to these Commissions and for the Irish government to commence an initiative to preserve the existing workhouses and mass grave sites in Ireland.  The Diaspora wishes to join with the Irish government in incorporating their efforts in the building of famine memorials in the U.S., Canada, Australia and where ever the famine victims died and survived.  We hope and pray that with our combined efforts the famine victims can bask in the warmth of the sunlight, no longer hidden in the darkness.

It is our sincere wish that you will make this happen.


Marie Tierney Smith

Attachment:  Recommendations


1.    Research areas of funding.

2.    Setting up a Committee to be known as:  The Committee for the Preservation of the Workhouses and Mass Grave Sites of Ireland.

Suggested participants: Mary Daly (The Famine in Ireland)
Ruan O’Donnell (The Irish Famine)
Cormac O’Grada
Colm Toibin
Diarmaid Ferriter
Christine Kinealy
Jim Reeves (Surplus People)
John O’Connor (The Workhouses of Ireland)

Peader Cremin, President, Mary Immaculate College Limerick has put forth the suggestion that the current St. Camillus’s Hospital was a huge workhouse and he suspects that it will be closing soon.  He believes that this would be a great centre for an interpretive Center/Museum/Place of Commemoration.  Since Shannon is the hub for international tourism but does not have places for tourists to visit and could be connected to Shannon Development as an interested partner.

3.    An invitation to artists to submit a design for grave stones and markers.

4.    The Historical Society of each county to submit the history of their workhouses and mass grave sites.

5.    Competition in schools and prizes for submission of articles on the famine period in their counties and towns.

6.    Historical Societies to have lectures and events planned on the workhouse in their area for inclusion in the Heritage Week booklet.

7.   A map and locations of all workhouses to be displayed in all Irish Tourist
offices and encouragement to have bus tours to sites and local guides to tell
the stories.

8.     On the National Famine Commemorative date to place markers and grave
stones on the workhouses and grave sites.

9.    Advertising abroad on the opening of the workhouses & grave sites.

10.  Incorporating the achievements of the Diaspora in building of famine
memorials in their countries.

11.  Supporting all efforts to preserve the existing workhouses.

12.  A permanent famine exhibit in our National Museum.



  1. At last, real work at unearthing the truth about An Gorta Mor. I have long valued this history – a deliberately hidden crime of British colonialism. Lenin called Ireland “A laboratory for colonialism” – and indeed it was. The ordinary people of England, Scotland and Wales fared very badly as well during The Empire, so this is partly their story too.
    Thank you for all your dedication and strength. I can feel my ancestors spirits. This truth-telling guides our lives today and informs our values.

  2. I did not see any reference to Dromore West Workhouse, Co. Sligo in letter to Minister Carey or was that the one described as “outside of Ballina”, Co. Mayo?
    Martina Kearins, Sligo native.

    • Any updates on the Dromore West Work House? The last I heard was that an artist was living there. I’m OK with that in a way. At least something beautiful can come out of it. My limited knowledge of the “Work House” would lead me to belive that it was NOT the place to go. Would horrible be correct? I’m thinking abuse, disease and ultimately death? It would appear to me that any restoration would have to include an educational aspect. My Dad was born and raised close to the site and I still have alot of family in the area. Seán Culkin

  3. I support this work and cannot understand why nothing has been done to preserve the workhouses as part of our heritgae and as a tourist attraction for the many people who come to trace their roots in Ireland. My grandfather was the Master of a Worhouse for a few years near the end of them and my mother has many sories of it. It is essentil that we preserve this heritage.
    Please contact me if you would like info/support and I would be willing to assist this group – I have a huge interest in this area.

  4. I am Irish American. My mother born in Ireland. We are coming for a visit in July and recently learned about workhouses in Ireland. My own mother born and raised in Ireland didn’t even know about them and quite frankly was never taught anything about the potato famine. We are journeying to Ireland to learn more about our history. I find it disgraceful that these workhouse sites are not being preserved as reminder for all how much Irish people suffered and were denied basic human rights.

    If anyone can forward us information about where we can visit a workhouse site in July we would be most grateful.


    Ellen McGee

    • Ellen,
      There is a workhouse in Dromore West in west Sligo which is well preserved but is privately owned and not open to the public. But if you enquire locally and have connections with the area you may be able to visit it. You can certainly see it externally and is a fine example.
      The others I know of are Portumna, Co. Galway and Donoughmore, Co. Laois.


  5. Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland has 1. So far that is the only 1 I can find to visit in June.

  6. Does anybody know of Dunshaughlin Workhouse, Co. Meath. It is now in private ownership but buildings are mainly in original form. The graveyard is at back and also buried there are Belgian Refugees from World War 1.

  7. has anyone got a photo/picture of the Inishowen union workhouse in Carndonagh Co. Donegal, that they could share with me??

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: