Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ballyshannon Workhouse Closes 90 years Ago


In the twentieth century the numbers in Ballyshannon workhouse continued to decline, assisted by the introduction of the old age pension and outdoor relief. The Board of Guardian minutes for 1917 show that some children were boarded out at a cost of £4 per annum, and that there were ninety-five inmates. This compares with over 900 inmates at the height of the Great Famine, seventy years before. The workhouse school had only seven children present when inspected in August 1917. The cost of keeping an inmate was eight shillings and four pence halfpenny. 
Facilities had improved – hot water was laid on in the maternity ward and a tender by John Myles, for electric lighting of the workhouse and fever hospital, at a cost of £50 per annum was being considered. Another sign of progress was that the medical officer, Dr. Mullen, requested a telephone link from the workhouse infirmary to his residence, as the lines were already in existence.

Diet and Tea Testing
The workhouse diet had improved in quantity  and stood at eight ounces of wholemeal made into stirabout, 16 ounces of rye bread for dinner, buttermilk at each meal for both men and women with adjustments for children. The annual tenders for items such as tea came before the Board of Guardians for selection. The Guardians sampled the tendered teas in their hands and smelt them. This helped them select the most suitable tea however they had another test to finalise their choice. Cormac McGowan, the Master of the workhouse, had the teas brewed separately, and four or five Guardians imbibed a little of each sample. In this manner did some of the Guardians in the workhouse become tea connoisseurs.

Operations during World War1

In the infirmary local doctors were often called upon to perform operations on patients. Operations could not be carried out without permission of the Board of Guardians of the workhouse. The workhouse hospital was used by the military during the First World War (1914-1918) and approximately 940 military patients were treated there. This reflected the numbers who were based at Finner Camp, a local training camp for soldiers during World War 1.

Workhouse Closes 1922
There were only 21 inmates left in the workhouse by March 1922 when notices were served on workhouse officials (excepting dispensary doctor, midwives, caretakers and relieving officers) terminating their appointments from 1st March 1922. The workhouse had opened in 1843 and witnessed the horrors of the Famine when hundreds of inmates were buried in the Paupers graveyard at Mullaghnashee. The last inmates were transferred to Stranorlar, Irvinestown or Carrick-on- Shannon depending on their place of origin. This was the end of a sad chapter in the life of Ballyshannon and surrounding areas. The workhouse buildings still survive in Ballyshannon but most are in a precarious state.

New Local History Book: “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History” by Anthony Begley details the history of the Ballyshannon area in the 19th and 20th centuries. Contains 500 pages with much material on tracing your roots. includes many rare images and modern aerial photographs of the area. Available from The Novel Idea Ballyshannon/The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town or can be ordered on line from anthonyrbegley@hotmail.com Price €25 softback plus postage if required.  Check for details. A limited number of hardbacks also available.

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