Portumna Workhouse August 2009

Constructed between 1850 and 1852, the workhouse in Portumna was designed by the Poor Law Commissions Architect, George Wilkinson.

The plaque on the wall at the start of the video clip is actually a misnomer. No one from the famine ever died at Portumna workhouse. The workhouse construction began when the famine mortality rate was at its’ height. By the time construction was completed in 1852, socially the country was dealing with poverty as an aftermath of the famine and population levels had dropped as a result of assisted immigration and death.

The raised platforms on either side are where the inmates of this workhouse would sleep. These are the original floors, doors and the original ceiling.

Life in the workhouse was so unappealing to the Irish that they often preferred going to jail than going into the workhouse. Therefore purposefully committing a crime with the intent of being sent to jail was a common event.

Inmates or paupers would have to rise when the bell rang, dress themselves in workhouse donated clothing, after they had washed in cold water and then stand before the matron to be fully inspected.

Women slept in one portion of the building and men in the men’s block and children in a separate block. A dividing wall in the exercise yard insured that the men and women never saw each other again upon entry into the workhouse.

Children three years old and under were permitted to stay with their mother. Mother’s had to request special permission to visit with their children, all visits being supervised.

As soon as a pauper was admitted, his name and religious persuasion was entered in the register, and he was then placed in the probationary ward, or in some room to be “exclusively appropriated for the purpose,” and was then examined by the medical officer of the workhouse.

“All the paupers in the workhouse, except those disabled by sickness or infirmity, persons of unsound mind, and children, shall rise, be set to work, leave off work, and go to bed at such times, and shall be allowed such intervals for their meals as the Board of Guardians shall, by any regulation approved by the Poor Law Commissioners, direct; and these several times shall be notified by the ringing of a bell.” Workhouse Rules

Courtesy of  Peter Higginbotham / workhouses.org.uK

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