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Ballinrobe Workhouse

The Irish Poor Laws describes a period of history concerning poor relief in Ireland before, during and after the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland. The workhouse system was established by the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838. However there use was on a much smaller scale than in England and Wales.

Ballinrobe Poor Law Union was formed 16th November 1839. The new workhouse, built in 1840-42, occupied a 6-acre site on Kilmaine Road to the south-east of the town. It was designed to hold 800 inmates and its construction cost £7,000 plus £1,400 for fixtures and fittings etc. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 24th March 1842 and admitted its first inmates two months later on 26th May 1842.
The building was constructed to one of George Wilkinson's standard designs with an entrance block at the north containing a board-room, offices etc. Behind this stood the large main block, with women's accommodation to one side and men's to the other. At the rear were wash-rooms, kitchens, store rooms and so on. To the south of the main workhouse buildings stood a small fever hospital block built in 1847. At the north of the site, on the main road, stood a dispensary. Ballinrobe suffered greatly during The Great Famine of 1845 to 1849. With 2000 inmates at the height of the famine, the Workhouse was so overcrowded that on March 23, 1847, The Mayo Constitution reported:

In Ballinrobe the workhouse is in the most awfully deplorable state, pestilence having attacked paupers, officers, and all. In fact, this building is one horrible charnel house, the unfortunate paupers being nearly all the victims of a fearful fever, the dying and the dead, we might say, huddled together. The master has become the victim of this dread disease; the clerks, a young man whose energies were devoted to the well-being of the union, has been added to the victims; the matron, too, is dead; and the respected, and esteemed physician has fallen before the ravages of pestilence, in his constant attendance on the diseased inmates. This is the position of the Ballinrobe house, every officer swept away, while the number of deaths among the inmates is unknown; and we forgot to add that the Roman Catholic chaplain is also dangerously ill of the same epidemic. Now the Ballinrobe board have complied with the Commissioner's orders, in admitting a houseful of paupers and in striking a new rate, which cannot be collected; while the unfortunate inmates, if they escape the awful epidemic, will survive only to be the subjects of a lingering death by starvation!

Ninety-six people died in just one week in April of 1849. The dead were buried in unmarked, shallow graves, located just outside the boundary on the southwest of the ruins.

Much of the main block was destroyed by fire during the civil war in 1922, although the entrance and dispensary blocks have survived. In 1993, small factory units were erected on the derelict part of the site. The surviving original buildings are now used as a local council depot and offices. Traces of the workhouse graveyard can also still be found.

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