Breaches of Workhouse Regulations and Punishments

The workhouse system itself was intended to be punitive, breaches of the regulations were treated as matters of grave concern and punished severely.

The following is a typical list of workhouse regulations, taken from University Review: The Workhouses of Ireland:

    "Any pauper who shall neglect to observe such of the rules as are applicable to him or her:
    Or shall make any noise when silence is needed:
    Or use abusive language:
    Or by word or deed insult or revile any other pauper in the workhouse:
    Or who shall not duly cleanse his or her person:
    And so on –

shall be deemed disorderly, and if within 7 days he repeats one of these offences or if he by word or deed insults, reviles the Master or Matron or if he be guilty of drunkenness or indecency he is to be termed refractory and put in the refractory cell."

To the above list we can add card playing; smoking; damage to, or abuse of workhouse property which included the paupers clothing; leaving the workhouse grounds without permission and stealing food. Confinement was not the only punishment meted out by workhouse authorities. They had recourse to the withdrawal of food, or longer hours of labour, or sent the offending paupers before a justice of the peace in an effort to maintain "due subordination".

Once a pauper was sent before a justice of the peace, he could be, and frequently was, punished by being fined, flogged or sent to prison. Although workhouse inmates were not prisoners, if they climbed over the wall or attempted to quit the workhouse in an irregular manner, they were regarded as being refractory, i.e. disorderly. If, in climbing over the wall, they wore the workhouse clothes they committed theft. As early as June 1841 the Poor Law Commissioners decided that this was a serious offence and that all guilty should be prosecuted.

It is probable that gaol held no great terror for workhouse offenders. Life could hardly have been more stringent than in the workhouse. As regards Co. Clare we know from a Select Committee Report on Crime in 1852 that the workhouse inmates found the food and general conditions superior in the local gaols.