Conclusion and Further Reading

The Irish Poor Law system was the quintessential product of the Victorian enthusiasm for administrative reform in Ireland. Over the nineteenth century it changed from being a safety net for the poor, to being a more complex system of an early public health service. Its records were correspondingly complex, but survival has been patchy and in no case has a complete set of administrative documents.

The full range of what should have existed, can only be pieced together from the evidence of several Unions. Some classes of records have been preserved more systematically than others. The importance of the surviving groups of indoor and outdoor registers, and Masters' journals, needs to be highlighted.

Further Reading

The quantity of surviving documentation for the Poor Law both at national and local levels, means that no single history of the Poor Law and its records exists. However there are two good general books.

Helen Burke's The People and The Poor Law in Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin, 1987) is an excellent description of the workings of the Poor Law, drawing largely on the records of the South Dublin Union, which are very full.

John O'Connor's The Workhouses of Ireland: The Fate of Ireland's Poor (Dublin, 1995) is a more general account, but has useful appendices of documents.

Although the Poor Law was in existence for almost a hundred years most attention has been paid to its record during the Famine of the late 1840's, and most of the many books on this subject deal with the Poor Law and its workings during these years. J.S. Donnelly's The Great Irish Potato Famine (Stroud, 2001) provides a recent summary of work in this area.

Two areas of Poor Law activity have been subjected to detailed scrutiny - William L. Feingold's The Revolt of the Tenantry: The Transformation of Local Government in Ireland, 1872-1886 (Boston, 1984) is a major study of the politics of the Poor Law system after the Famine, while Ronald Cassells' Medical Charities, Medical Politics: The Irish Dispensary System and the Poor Law, 1836-1872 (Woodbridge, 1997) deals with the local system of medical care.

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