Soup Kitchens and Workhouses

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Soup Kitchens

In the summer of 1847, the government set up some soup kitchens to give the starving people hot soup. A group called the Society of Friend, or the Quakers, did a lot of work to feed the poor. They bought huge boilers in which to cook the soup. By August 1847, about 3 million people were being fed each day in total. However, in the Autumn of 1847, the government shut down the soup kitchens. They expected that the next crop of potatoes might be good and told poor people that they could go to the workhouses for help.



Workhouses were places where the very poor, known as paupers, could go to live. Once they entered the workhouse, people had to wear a uniform and were given a very basic diet. The main food they were given was called stirabout, which was similar to a weak oatmeal porridge. Families were split up once inside. Men, women, girls and boys were all forced to stay in different parts of the building.

There were strict rules in the workhouse such as keeping silence at certain times. Inmates were not allowed to play cards, disobey orders or try to escape from the workhouse.


People were often ill when they entered the workhouse and this meant that many inmates died of diseases, which spread quickly in the workhouses. The main diseases were typhus, cholera and dysentery.

When did the workhouses begin in Ireland?

The Irish workhouses for the poor first began when a law was passed in the parliament in London in 1838. The law said that the workhouses should be built as places to keep very poor people who applied for help.

By August 1846, there were about 128 workhouses built. When the famine occurred, and especially by 1847, the workhouses were overcrowded and could not keep all the poor people who came looking for help. For example, a work house in Fermoy, County Cork built for 800 people, actually kept 1,800 people in very bad conditions. Diseases spread very quickly in overcrowded spaces. By the end of the famine, there were 163 workhouses in Ireland.