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Judy O'Donnell's Habitation Under the Bridge at Doonbeg
Kilrush Union Minute Books, 1849

Clare Champion Friday December 12, 1997

They seek the workhouse or die by the roadside
- Kilrush 1849

Captain Arthur Edward Kennedy's report on conditions in West Clare, which appeared in the Clare Journal of the 11th of June 1849, shocked the British House of Commons.

The report stated that "as soon as one horde of houseless and all but naked paupers are dead, or provided for in the workhouse, another wholesale eviction doubles their numbers who, in their turn, pass through the same ordeal of wandering from house to house or burrowing in bogs or behind ditches."

Conditions in West Clare, and particularly in the Kilrush Union Workhouse, will be graphically illustrated in an exhibition and major publication to be launched at the Kilrush Public Library on Tuesday December 16, at 7.30pm.

The minutes of the meetings of the boards of guardians, detailing the day to day happenings and administration of the Kilrush Union Workhouse, have been reproduced and made available in a unique publication from CLASP Press, the publishing arm of Clare Local Studies Project (CLASP).

The original handwritten (and at times scarcely legible) minute books have been faithfully and exactly reproduced in full for the year 1849. They provide a wealth of detailed accounts of number of inmates, rates of death and disease, outdoor relief, and a broad picture of life in the workhouse in a period, when the county was still gripped by famine and eviction.

"Captain Kennedy recommended that the workhouse baker be admonished - as the state of baking is far from satisfactory and that he be dismissed if greater regularity and cleanliness be not observed” – Minute book entry for Saturday March 31, 1849. We learn from the same entry 4,251 quarts of milk, 186 pounds of meat, I cwt of soap, and 49 cartloads of turf were among the provisions ordered for the workhouse for that week.

The publication of the Minute Book is accompanied by an exhibition featuring original, large scale artistic interpretations of the reality of the famine, executed by the FAS trainees of CLASP, based on contemporary sources.

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