In 1834, a new Poor Law was introduced in Ireland, which was designed to help remedy the high levels of poverty and to help the poor by providing food and shelter in exchange for work via the creation of workhouses. The new Poor Law required that a workhouse had to be set up in each union of Ireland so that everyone who truly needed help could come take part in the workhouses. Unfortunately, the Irish workhouses didn't necessarily help those in need, but instead many regarded the workhouses as prisons for the poor.
Irish workhouses were intended to help the poor by providing clothing, and food in exchange for hard labor. However, the houses were intentionally cruel and harsh in order to only attract those who truly needed assistance, which led to problems and poor conditions for those living in the workhouses.
Irish workhouses were occupied from around 1834 until the early 1920's. Due to the extreme cases of poverty in Ireland at the time, your ancestors may have lived in a workhouse because hundreds of thousands of people passed through them. Dublin's North and South union workhouses were the busiest and people traveled from all over Ireland to come work in them. If your family fell on hard times during the Great Famine in the 1840's, for example, or faced other hardships they might have ended up in the workhouses at some point in their lives! The conditions at the workhouses were very poor and each was set up with a strict set of rules and many families were separated at the workhouses, which might help you fill in gaps in your research.
The work itself was cruel and laborious from breaking rocks to build roads to hand picking oakum, which entails hand picking and unraveling threads of tough rope to recycle it later. The food was minimal and, on average, adults were given two meals per day, which consisted of items like porridge with milk and potatoes. Due to the conditions of the workhouses, tensions began to rise among the people living in the workhouses, and as a result, violence often broke out between the residents.
Due to the number of people in the Irish workhouses, it is possible that your ancestors passed through one at one point in time. You can look at the Irish Workhouse records to see if your family worked in one. The Irish Workhouse records can also give you a lot more, detailed information on your family and their lives upon entering the workhouses.
Specifically, the Irish Workhouse records provide details on:
- Status (whether married, single, widowed or a child)
- Birth year
- Admission year
- Workhouse number
Be sure to look at the images because these details are on the images only:
- Name or location of spouse
- Number of children
- Observations of condition when admitted
- Date left workhouse or died
Were your ancestors in a workhouse?