Wicked world of workhouses brought to light in new publication

Owen Hickey

Reporter:

Owen Hickey

A RARE edition of a manuscript with details of Limerick people who were admitted to workhouses in the 18th Century has been published.

A RARE edition of a manuscript with details of Limerick people who were admitted to workhouses in the 18th Century has been published.

An edition of the Register of the Limerick House of Industry for the period 1774-1793 shows nearly 3,000 people were admitted to the workhouses during this period.

The new publication contains the names, age, sex, place of origin, religion, medical condition, and admission and discharge details of the inmates.

Edited by Dr David Fleming and Dr John Logan from the Department of History, at the University of Limerick and published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission, the book provides evidence of how individuals from Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Cork and other adjacent places coped with poverty, infirmity, disease and lunacy.

Dr. David Fleming co-author of the book described life for those represented in the book.

“For all, admission to the House meant disruption of a familiar routine and becoming subject to an impersonal rhythm that regulated each of the day’s activities.

“This often meant the severing of personal ties, a loss of intimacy and many had to suffer criticism of a wayward life.

“On the other hand an inmate had the opportunity to avail of the sociability that living at close quarters brought and for as long as a pauper remained in the House, there was the guarantee of shelter, food, clothing, and when ill, the attention of a physician or surgeon,” Fleming explained.

The register lists details about a number of the inmates.

Almost equal proportions of males and females entered the House, 64 percent voluntarily admitted themselves and 36 percent were forced.

The sooner a pauper could leave, either to take up work or to go to another part of the country, the sooner another might be given a place.

Some never left the House, including the permanently disabled who lacked even the capacity to beg and the mentally ill who were perceived as being a threat to themselves and to others.

The publication of this edition also highlights the importance of the work carried out by archives nationwide to preserve sources that enable people to study the past.

The Irish Manuscripts Commission (IMC) is a public body founded in 1928 and has overseen the publication of 170 titles, mainly editions of original manuscripts.