The Commissioners

The most senior level of administration in the Poor Law system comprised the Poor Law Commissioners. They were based in Dublin from 1847, when the Irish Commission was established, until 1872 when it became part of the Local Government Board. It was the function of the Commissioners to establish general policy and to urge local Boards of Guardians to carry out their functions efficiently. Briefly, during the Famine, a few Boards surrendered their powers to the Commissioners.

The Commissioners issued detailed regulations to local Unions relating to the levying of poor rates, the election of Guardians and the construction of workhouses. In particular it issued circulars and required that unions make regular returns to the Commissioners. The substance of these were published in annual reports of the Commissioners. These reports contain very useful abstracts of the workings of local Unions, especially the admission and discharge of paupers from the workhouse, which can be used where local Poor Law Union sources have not survived.

In addition, the correspondence of the Commissioners with local Unions is very revealing and can be used where local letter books have not survived. Some of this was published in annual reports but the original letters from Unions and the replies are now among the Department of the Environment records (since it was the successor to the Local Government Board) in the National Archives, Bishop Street.

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