Birr Workhouse from the sky

The final years of the workhouse and its dissolution

The final years of the workhouse are quite important because they help us understand the system of caring for the poor that the new Irish state inherited in the 1920s.

Professor Mary E. Daly

This post features a video recording of a presentation by Professor Mary E. Daly (UCD). Her paper – The final years of the workhouse and its dissolution – was given as part of a Birr Historical Society conference on Birr Workhouse, which took place in September 2013. Professor Mary E. Daly is an expert on the social and economic history of nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland. She is the author of many books including The Slow Failure. Population Decline and Independent Ireland (Wisconsin University Press), Dublin, the Deposed Capital: A Social and Economic History, 1860-1914 (Cork University Press), Industrial development and Irish national identity, 1922-39 (Syracuse University Press; Gill & Macmillan) and The Famine in Ireland (Historical Association of Ireland).

Professor Daly was also one of the principal investigators on the National Famine Commemoration Project along with Cormac Ó Gráda (UCD), David Dickson (TCD) and David Fitzpatrick (TCD). The project researchers (Andrés Eiríksson, Catherine Cox and Desmond McCabe) compiled databases from the workhouse registers and other documents belonging to the governing bodies of several poor law unions (including Parsonstown (Birr)). This data has been made available through the Irish Famine Research Project (IVRLA) and is now available on the UCD Digital Library website.

About Birr Workhouse

Birr Workhouse opened as Parsonstown Union Workhouse in April 1842. It was designed to a standard plan by George Wilkinson for 800 inmates and was amongst the first 130 workhouses set up under the Irish Poor Law Act. Birr Workhouse is believed to be the least altered of all pre-famine workhouses still standing in Ireland. Closed in 1921, a succession of firms using it for light industries kept the building well maintained but essentially unchanged until about ten years ago. The surviving fabric of the workhouse has since deteriorated and now requires immediate attention.

Image: Birr Workhouse (Paul Barber)