The Man in the Workhouse

By Mary Tiernan

As a member of the Ballinrobe Active Retirement Association Writers’ Group, I was invited to take part in this project on The Ballinrobe Workhouse by Averil Staunton.

Having grown up a mile out the road, I passed by the Workhouse all of my school days of thirteen years and more, knowing very little about its past workings or its inhabitants, as it was not talked about, and in later years where ever I brought up the topic, it was met with frowns, a laboured gasp like breath and the usual response was that it was an awful place, and that was where that ended.

We were forbidden by our parents to walk on the Workhouse side of the road in case we would let the curiosity get the better of us and wander in, but having felt the fear vibes that emanated from the elders in my home and off the neighbours, we were too frightened anyway to venture in.

When I was maybe six or seven years old, on a cold dull day walking home from school, a movement in the open Workhouse doorway caught my attention. On a quick glance, I will never forget the very pale lean face of a man with a dark coat, who seemed startled that I saw him, and he moved out of view immediately.

I hurried home and was excited to relay my news. My parents and grandmother then started talking among themselves about things I had never heard of, fever, spreading disease and the fever hospital. They seemed very concerned that I had seen this man, who, from then on was referred to as The Man in the Workhouse. That incident stayed with me to this day.

Through being invited to participate in this project, memories of the past were evoked.

I now understand the severity of what had happened here and the awfulness of it.


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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