Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Search this Website | Copyright Notice
Ennistymon Union - Workhouse Staff

Joseph Robins in his book The Lost Children: A Study of Charity Children in Ireland 1700-1900 describes the criteria used in selecting workhouse staff:
"The selection of workhouse staff was, in theory at least, based on the Poor Law Commissioners’ instructions and pronouncements and was subject to the supervision of the Commissioners’ local inspectors. Since the workhouse atmosphere was punitive rather than ameliorative, harsh and repellent rather than sympathetic, the Commissioners considered that the workhouse officers should be selected for their ability to discipline and regiment the paupers rather than for their humanitarian qualities."

The Commissioners’ recommendations were followed in some unions throughout the country. However the vast majority of guardians made their own decisions when selecting staff, many of whom proved to be untrained, incompetent and ill-suited to their position, with many of them chosen, not because of their qualification, but due to the amount of influence they could bring to bear on the local community and the patronage of the guardians. The order books of the Poor Law Commissioners reveal that between 1843 and 1852 approximately 70 workhouse masters, 25 matrons and 60 school mistress were dismissed by order of the Commissioners. Furthermore, the minute books of the guardians suggest that in some cases workhouse staff were allowed to resign as an alternative to dismissal.





Ennistymon Union.

The VICE-GUARDIANS to the COMMISSIONERS: —March 18, 1848.

We have the honour to report for the information of the Commissioners that during the past week we have carefully examined the interior arrangements of this workhouse, and have to submit the following observations:—

We found the dormitories very badly kept, the floors and platforms badly swept, the straw in the beds excessively dirty, and collections of dust and filth under almost every bed.

On inspecting the laundry we found the clothes which had been washed and were in the process of drying completely covered with vermin, and the persons and clothes of the paupers generally neglected. On remonstrating with the master and matron as to the state of filth in which we found the house, they stated that the filthy clothes all came from the infirmary: we therefore sent for the medical attendants, and informed them of the statements made by the master and matron, and at the same time called their especial attention to the necessity of seeing that the clothes and bedding of the paupers in the hospital be kept perfectly clean.

We have also the honour to enclose for information of the Commissioners, the report of the inspector of national schools, as to the state in which he found the schools of this house, and as to the qualifications of the schoolmaster and schoolmistress; and from our own observation, we are able fully to confirm his report as to the unfitness of both teachers.

The schoolmistress is completely ignorant of the national school system of education, neither grammar, geography, nor writing is taught in her department: and the boys have not made that progress in their education which might have been expected, nor are they kept so clean and orderly as they ought to be. We therefore recommend their dismissal, or that they be advised to resign.

We have further to state that we have felt it to be our duty to suspend the relieving officer for the division of Ennistymon in consequence of the gross neglect of his duties. Numbers of the very destitute have not been relieved and we have reason to suppose that a system of favouritism has been throughout pursued by him.

We have appointed another person to perform his duties until such time as we may receive the instructions of the Commissioners on the subject.

<< A Guide to Ennistymon Union 1839-1850