I was researching the Great Irish Famine (1845-51) when I came across this bleak report written in Clifden workhouse on Christmas day 1847. The situation in Ireland was desperate by 1847 when famine related diseases started to ravage an already weakened population. The workhouse was what the 19th century offered up as state welfare. Orphans, the old and the destitute were admitted and in return for food they were subjected to a horrendous regime. The desperate situation in Ireland during the famine meant that these institutions were completely overwhelmed leading to massive levels of disease and mortality in the workhouses. Needless to say Christmas day 1847 was just another day of misery, disease and death for the people in Clifden workhouse.
Clifden Workhouse, Christmas day 1847.
“The inmates of the house are crowded together in a day-room breathing a tainted atmosphere. There is an insufficient supply of bedding and clothing. The rain pours down through the ventilating turrets into the rooms and the paupers are thus subjected to increased liability of infection. Directions have been given to provide increased accommodation, such as can be obtained. The contractor has been directed to supply additional bedding. A minute appears on the proceedings of the Guardians directing advertisements to be issued for tenders for the keeping in repair of the house according to the printed specifications furnished to me. All this has been formally done and yet I can tell the Commissioners from the experience I have obtained since my residence here, that it will be no easy matter to determine when these orders shall be completed. The contractor for clothing must be paid a portion of his debt before he gives any additional credit. The slatier, carpenter, mason, etc. will urge the state of the weather as being against their respective operations and while this delay is being experienced pestilence rages among the wretched inmates. On visiting the house a few days ago I was disgusted at learning that the dormitories (particularly those appropriated for children) are not supplied with night buckets. I forbear to describe the abominations consequent to this. The buckets had been long since ordered by the Guardians but the idle laziness of the tradesmen occasioned a delay in the execution of the order and the result was as I have stated. Now setting aside that the Guardians have no visiting committee, bearing in mind that they had actually ordered these articles, had also directed their contractor to supply bedding and had issued advertisements for tenders, I cannot attach blame to them since my official connection with their Board. The Commissioners will, I trust, agree with me that the difficulties I have to meet are associated with and almost inseparable from the locality in which the workhouse is placed in the Union; so distant as it is from towns where the Guardians could supply themselves with materials and contractors for executing necessary works. I regret to state that Dr. Bodkin’s brother who accompanied him to the workhouse hospital about a week since, for the purpose of assisting him in his medical duties, died today of malignant typhus fever. I mention this fact with the view of assuring the Commissioners that I shall now find it still more difficult to induce the Guardians to visit the house. Within the last week the weather has been most inclement and has brought with it a vast increase of disease and misery”.
Clifden workhouse 1847
(Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill’s “Patient Endurance: The Great Famine In Connemara, Connemara Girl Publications, 1997)
Quoted from http://www.connemara.net/history/workhouse.aspx