In 1840 the commissioners suggested non-commissioned army and constabulary officers would make the most suitable workhouse masters. His duties included:
In Ennistymon Workhouse, on May 12th 1848, the newly appointed vice guardians, unhappy with the irregularities in the workhouse called on the master Michael Walsh to resign. This he duly did on the 26th May 1848, and the matron being his wife resigned also. The clerk was also found wanting and was suspended on the 7th April 1848, pending the decision of the Commissioners. He was dismissed on the 3rd of May 1848.
The vice guardians themselves, who were paid officers, seem to have made surprisingly unwise choices for the post of master. From May 26th 1848 to March 24th 1849 Ennistymon Workhouse had 4 different masters and three of these were forced to resign. Mathew Hehir lasted little over a month as master. The minutes record that the vice guardians were not satisfied that he and his wife were competent to fill the vacancy and called upon them to resign. James Hall was appointed master on 4th August 1848. He was suspended on August the 11th pending the commissioners decision, following a complaint against him of drunkenness and disorderly behaviour at Lahinch Workhouse (see below). He resigned on 18th August 1848. A possible reason for the high turnover of masters and workhouse staff in general, is put forward by Joseph Robins "probably more than anything else the character of its officers and servants reflected the attitude of the people towards the workhouse system. Few self-respecting persons would seek a workhouse post."
8th August 1848.
I beg leave most respectfully to state for your information that Mr. Hall, master of the Ennistymon workhouse, came here at 10.00 o'clock p.m. in a beastly state of intoxication and ordered the gate to be opened. Mrs. O'Donnell and her mother came out and when they heard him talking at the gate and they both told him in a very discrete manner that it was a very unreasonable hour of the night and that he could not come in. He still insisted that I should at once open the gate, at the same time holding out threats to me for not obeying his commands and I further beg leave to state that about 10 minutes previous to the above conversation he wanted that I should allow him to come in with me that he might sleep here for the night and telling me he wanted to give me a tumbler of punch which I refused. I am informed his conduct was very unbecoming in the house he was drinking in. Young Mr. Hehir was with him part of the time but was perfectly sober, and obliged to leave his company.
8th August 1848.
I have seen a report which Mr. Hemsworth sent you concerning the conduct of Mr. Hall is perfectly true.
Signed, Alice O'Donnell.
In consequence of the foregoing communications and after an investigation of the matter, the vice guardians were under the necessity of not giving over charge of the house to Mr. Hall until the Commissioners decision be known, communicated this by letter on 8th inst.
[Mr. Hall tendered his resignation at the next meeting. It was accepted]
Extract from Minute Book 4 of the Guardians of the Ennistymon Union.
25th February 1848
There is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years he is an orphan, his father having died last year and his mother has expired on last Wednesday night, who is now about being buried without a coffin!! Unless ye make some provision for such. The child in question is now at the Workhouse Gate expecting to be admitted if not it will starve.
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