Ennistymon Union was declared in August 1839. It covered an area of 238 square miles and had a population of 49,673 according to the 1841 census. In North Clare, as elsewhere throughout the country, parishes were grouped together to form a union, individual parishes being too small and too poor to support a workhouse.
Like all other unions throughout the country it was managed by A Board of Guardians, composed of magistrates, landlords and the better class of farmers. Roughly ¼ of the members of the board (½ after 1847) were appointed from among the justices of the peace, holding land within the union. The remaining members of the board were elected by the rate-payers whose holding was valued at £4 or over. The position was unpaid.
Control of the new poor law was vested in the three-man Poor Law Commission, which was based in London until 1847 and had control over and responsibility for implementing the provisions of the Irish Poor Law Act. It constituted a strong central authority which issued orders for the guidance and control of guardians and union officers throughout the country. Copious instructions poured out from the Poor Law Commissioners on the day to day running of the workhouse and, later, the out-door relief scheme. The minutes of the Ennistymon Board of Guardians reveal that at almost every meeting letters from the Commissioners were read. From the discussion which followed we can infer that many of these letters communicate the commissioners disapproval of decisions and resolutions taken by the board of guardians, e.g. at a meeting held on the 10th February 1843, the guardians resolved to allow the matron to plant cabbages in two outer yards to the rear of the workhouse "provided it meets with the approval of the sanction of the Commissioners". Obviously, this proposal was not approved of by the Commissioners, as we read later, at a meeting held on the 24th February, that it was resolved that "the matron be directed to desist from interfering with workhouse yards in planting cabbage or any other vegetable". On Saturday 30th December 1843 the board resolved that the schoolmaster "gets liberty to sleep out of the workhouse". However, an Assistant Commissioner, who attended some of the meetings, drew attention to the irregularity of the school master sleeping outside the house and the former resolution was rescinded.
The Commissioners had the authority to dissolve boards of guardians if they deemed it fit. The Ennistymon Board of Guardians was dissolved in March 1848. The reasons are outlined in a letter from the Commissioners to the board of Guardians, dated February 23rd 1848. The Commissioners appointed two paid vice guardians to administer the affairs of the union. A newly elected board of guardians took office in November 1849, only to be dissolved just over a year later in December 1850. Two vice guardians were in control until March 1852.