Posted by: irishhungercomm | May 6, 2014

First national conference on workhouses

First national conference on workhouses will take place in a workhouse

The conference in Portumna will also discuss plans for the workhouse buildings that still exist around the country.
THE FIRST NATIONAL conference on Irish workhouses will take place in Galway this month.

The conference will give an overview of the workhouse system and also consider the future of workhouse buildings that remain today.

Researchers, writers and lecturers will give presentations during the weekend on May 17 and 18 in Portumna.

The Workhouse

Emigration, starvation or the workhouse…those were the options for many people during the famine in Ireland and so the numbers in the workhouses increased dramatically.

By the autumn of 1846, the workhouses couldn’t deal with the overcrowding, disease and deaths.

Corpses, without coffins, were carried on carts day after day to be thrown into mass burial pits in the workhouse grounds.

But it wasn’t just the famine years that workhouses operated in Ireland, they existed from the early 1840s to the early 1920s, 163 of them in total.

While there was widespread destitution before the famine years the number of people entering the workhouses was low as they were the last resort of destitute people.

But that changed when the potato crop diseased in 1986.


The workhouses are considered to be the most hated and feared institution ever established in Ireland.

Life was meant to be harsh so as not to encourage people to stay but people got food in return for doing work.

One of the cruellest aspects of the system was that family members were split up into separate quarters. There were a lot of children in the workhouses and the conditions were terrible for them.

One of the ways to get out of the workhouse was through emigration.

Mary Ann Taylor received assisted passage from Mountbellew Workhouse in County Galway to go to Australia in 1853 when she was 18 years old.

Her great grandson, Bill Marwick will be at the conference to recount Mary Ann’s story.

Bill was born in York, Western Australia and is a former mayor and councillor of the cities of Wanneroo and Joondalup.

The workhouse system was abolished by the new Irish parliament in the early 1920s. However, it continued to operate in the six counties until the 1940s.


While many of the workhouse buildings were destroyed or became derelict, a number still survive today.

Presentations will be given on the current efforts to find new appropriate uses for old workhouse buildings. Workhouses remain in:

Callan, Co. Kilkenny
Donaghmore, Co. Laois
Bawnboy, Co. Cavan
Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan
Birr, Co. Offaly
Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford
Portumna, Co. Galway.
The conference will be opened by Minister for Skills and Training, Ciarán Cannon.

Guided tours of the Irish Workhouse Centre will take place on both days, it’s located in the former Portumna Workhouse.

This conference is organised by the Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna in partnership with the Heritage Office, Galway County Council.

For further information e-mail


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