Who were the Occupants?

By Averil Staunton

The basic idea of the workhouse system was that families in dire poverty could enter the workhouse and work for food, thus avoiding death from starvation. It was populated by the poorest of the poor and other hardship, ill, or evicted tenants, which included a number of children, including those whose parents had emigrated leaving their children to be sent for in due course. This would arise when the parents earned sufficient money to send for them. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases by the time they sent funds, their child could not be discovered, or their names incorrectly entered in the workhouse records or in some cases the younger children could not remember their parents’ surnames.

Quite a number of elderly and sick people were sent to its infirmary by poverty stricken children unable to cope or by neighbours or friends of those with nobody to care for them.

Pauper women entered the workhouse for varying reasons, including poverty, illness, pregnancy, dependent children or those who could no longer support themselves by begging in the street.

Death of parents, desertion or those whose husbands had been transported to Australia as convicts were another section of communities who might have had no relations to support them. Single women with children were treated most sternly.

It was not uncommon for single women, who became pregnant, having worked as domestic servants to go to the workhouse to deliver their babies.

Beggars assembling for Indian meal July 1847 by unknown artist. NLI, Dublin Ireland


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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