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

1997, ISBN: 1 900545 01 2, Hardback, Price: €20.00

This publication is out of print.

The Kilrush Union Minute Books contain the minutes of the weekly meetings of the Board of Guardians of the Kilrush Union Workhouse. The weekly minutes contain tables of statistics relating to:

  • The number of inmates in the Workhouse, Auxilliaries & Hospital
  • The numbers of Persons relieved out of the Workhouse
  • The amount of Rates collected for the week
  • The requirements of Relieving Officers.

They also contain information as follows:

  • The cost of an inmate for one week
  • Estimate of Provisions needed for the week
  • Financial report of Bills paid
  • Day to day business involved in running the workhouse and union.

The Kilrush Poor Law Union
The first inmates were received into the newly-completed workhouse at Kilrush on 9 July 1842, a building erected to cater for a maximum of 800 inmates, or ‘paupers’. The Poor Law Union, the hinterland for the workhouse, whose destitute inhabitants it was intended to serve, contained a population of 82,353 persons according to the 1841 census, spread out over a geographical area of nearly 116,000 acres, extending into three baronies. With total property valuation of only £59,000, even before the first failure of the potato crop in 1845, the Kilrush Union was one of the most impoverished areas of the west of Ireland. During the years of the Famine, its people suffered on a horrendous scale, and tens of thousands died from the effects of starvation and disease. The suffering of the people of Kilrush Union accelerated after the Poor Law Extension Act of 1847 placed financial and administrative responsibility for relief of distress entirely on the poor law, which could not remotely support the burden.

From its first declaration as a union in 1839 until March of 1848, Kilrush was governed, like all unions in Ireland, by a Board of Guardians. The guardians decided on the level of the poor law rate, the property tax which funded the union’s operations, they appointed the different officials who actually ran the workhouse and supervised their management through meetings, and made final decisions also on individual applications for admittance to the workhouse.

The minutes provide and essential supplement to the many other documents which illuminate the history of the Kilrush Union in this period. Largely due to Captain Kennedy’s efforts at publicising what was happening in Kilrush, there exists a greater body of material for study than perhaps for any other union in Ireland.

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Clare Champion,
December 12, 1997