Social Change: The Workhouses

The creation of workhouses in Ireland took place in the early part of the 19th century. In the following article 'Poor Law Unions and their Records', Dr. Raymond Gillespie outlines the events leading to their creation, describes the running of daily life in the workhouse and the records of this which still survive today.

Before the nineteenth century, local government in Ireland was carried on by two main institutions. Each county had a Grand Jury which was responsible for the maintenance of roads

Taylor and Skinner road map (Mayo Co.)

Detail from map of Castlebar-Ballinrobe road from "Maps of the Roads of Ireland" by George Taylor and Andrew Skinner, first published 1778.

  and bridges and the provision of county hospitals. It did this by raising a local tax called the county cess, the calculation of which was different in each county.

At a more local level the parishes of the Established Church (also known as civil parishes) were the basis of other aspects of local administration. Parishes were responsible for poor relief, graveyards, education, sanitation and the enforcement of law and order.

In a few places, such as Belfast, where the Church of Ireland was weak, voluntary societies such as the Belfast Charitable Society provided local facilities such as the poor house, graveyards and water supply. In other large cities such as Dublin the corporation provided some local poor relief services.

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