Why were Workhouses needed?

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. Three million people lived in basic cabins made of stone, mud or sod. Two million even poorer souls lived in hovels graded as 4th class homes with no furniture and 3 to 4 generations of a family living together.

On the large Landlord estates there were three types land users:                                  

  1. Tenants who rented small farms from the landlords. They had to give up their land to gain entry to the Workhouse.
  2. Cottiers who worked without payment in return for a patch of poor land.
  3. Landless labourers who worked for no payment, but had permission to occupy a rough piece of land.

They were all dependant on the highly nutritious potatoes which were planted in ridges. Evidence of these ridges can be seen to this day around Ballinrobe and its hinterland.

They had no other source of nutrition as all their other crops, oats wheat and barley, grown on their small pieces of land were sold to pay their rent. With the potato crop failure, they were left penniless and starving. They had no other option but to seek refuge in their nearest Workhouse.


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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