The State of Ballinrobe Workhouse during the Great Famine in 1849

Extracted by Averil Staunton

This is an extract from a letter, which appeared on the 23rd of May 1849 in the Irish Times, written by the local Church of Ireland Rector, Rev. James Anderson. His question was how long does Lord John Russell intend that such a state of things continue?

The letter was later reprinted in the Ballina Chronicle and introduced with this forward:

Whether it is that the poor of our neighbourhood are more patient under their sufferings than the children of privation and want in other localities, or that they are not so deeply plunged in bitterness as in other places-for instance, the union of Ballinrobe we confess we are at a loss to conjecture.

We have been for the last three years impressed with the conviction that nothing could surpass the dire destitution which the lower, and indeed, many of those who at one time might be ranked in the middle classes in an around town were forced to endure; but when we read the accounts, which thrust themselves before us from other quarters, we are, quo ad hoc, no worse than our neighbours.

We are lead to these remarks from the perusal of another heart-rending appeal to the head of her Majesty’s government by the Rev. James Anderson, rector and vicar of Ballinrobe, and who also fills the unenviable post of chaplain to the workhouse of that union:

To The Right Hon. Lord John Russell

My Lord,

I have yet other woes to mention, so truly horrifying, that former tales are as nothing in comparison, and possibly they may put an extinguisher for ever upon that left-handed policy, and that base niggard economy, which are gnawing out the vitals of the country, Horresco refereus [I shudder to tell].

Well, then, my lord, in a neighbouring union a ship-wrecked human body was cast on shore; a starving man extracted the heart and liver, and that was the maddening feast on which he regaled himself and his perishing family!!!

And nearer still, a poor forlorn girl, hearing that her mother was seized with cholera, hastened to the rescue-alas! too late, but with a deep, religious, and filial devotion desiring, at least, a decent interment for her dear, departed parent, was driven to the shocking necessity of carrying the corpse upon her own back, for three long miles, to this very union, if so be she might make her wants known, and simply obtain a coffin from the Relieving Officer, need I tell you, my lord, the dismal sequel? She herself died of cholera the following day!

Is the English exchequer so paralysed as that it can afford no better food for the famine-stricken, emaciated Irish peasant than the putrid hearts and livers of his fellow mortals or is it really the desire of the government to see the entire population of Ireland disposed of in this quiet way?

The picture drawn by the Rev. James Anderson, is certainly a fearful one and gives one of the few glimpses of the state of the Ballinrobe workhouse conditions in 1849.

Extract from a letter by the Reb. James Anderson, Rector of St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, Ballinrobe printed in the Ballina Chronicle Mayo, May, 1849


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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