Posts Tagged ‘Portumna Workhouse’

Last Sunday, Portumna Workhouse had an open day for locals – isn’t that a lovely idea?  I’m sure I’ve said it many times before but how often do we live in an area and never visit the local historical sites?

Workhouse Bench

It was wonderful to see such a large number of locals along at the event.

The workhouse in Portumna was one of 163 built across the country – the biggest construction project undertaken in Ireland until our recent Celtic Tiger arrived.  All workhouses were completed on time and within budget – not a bad feat back in the mid- 1800’s.  The Portumna Workhouse was built at a total cost of €6,500 and was fitted out with a budget of €1,500.  It was designed to hold 600 people but the largest number of people ever recorded in it was at 230.

We only caught the latter half of the introduction about how the restoration had been undertaken and funded by SE Galway IRD.  The video of the work undertaken and the mammoth tasks that faced the team when they started was pretty awesome – the haunting music being obligatory!

Next it was time to go outside and meet our volunteer guide, Pierce.  (There are over 25 volunteers that act as guides and help in the painstakingly slow job of the renovation).

Womens' Yard & Dormitory

There is something eerily disturbing about standing in the inner yard.  At either end are the accommodation blocks – one for girls, one for women – and on either side are 10 or 12 feet high stone walls which were to keep the occupants out of sight of outsiders and the men in the workhouse.

Going to school in Ireland, we were taught the history of the workhouses – how dreaded it was, how desperate families were.  Can we ever imagine or know what it must have been like for a family to go seek help in such a place?   One member of a family would not be allowed to enter – only entire families – the cruelty of it.  Imagine knowing that entering through the gates meant that immediately the family would be divided – never to see each other again!  Women in one block, girls in another, fathers in another and boys in yet another block.  Only children under 2 were allowed stay with their mothers.  Such utter devastation.



And then to add to that…. there was a policy that the food inside the workhouse should not be ‘better’ than that available outside!  So adults were fed 2 meals of porridge or potatoes a day, with children getting 3 meals.

Life was so regimented inside those walls.  The slightest misdemeanour meant you spent some time in the refractory cell – stone shed with no windows.  Your misdemeanour could possibly have been standing on a chair to look out a window in the hope of seeing your child in the yard.

Everyone worked – women did the laundry, men did maintenance and yard work.

Is it worth a visit?  Yes, most definitely – it is full of history and a reminder of how lucky we are now – no matter how bad we think things are.

Portumna Workhouse 

Open 7 days a week – May to October –  09.00 – 18.00 (last admission 17.00)

Cost:  Adults €6.00,  Seniors/Students €4.00,  Families €14.00



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