Carlow Workhouse During The Famine Years



Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Workhouse

During The Famine Years


Extracts from CAROVIANIA 1975 by J. A. Robins
Also reproduced in “Carlow Now and Then” Vol1 #4 Summer 1998
Source:- 'Carloman' plus  "The Workhouse" website

Sister Vianny of the Mercy Nursing Order planting a tree at the Workhouse Burial plot in 1999.
In the picture is Cllr.Joe McDonald and Michael Purcell next to the flagpole.

Source of image: Michael Purcell

Carlow Poor Law Union was formally declared on the 15th September 1840 and covered an area of 280 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 30 in number, representing its 14 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Co. Carlow: Bagenalstown (2), Barragh (2), Borris (2), Carlow (4), Fennagh and Nurney (2), Grangeford, Idrone West (3), Kellistown, Kiltennell (2), Tullow (2), Myshall (2).

Queen's County: Arles (2), Graigue (3), Shrule (2).

Later additions to Co. Carlow: Agha, Ardough, Ballickmoyler, Ballinacarrig, Ballintemple, Ballon, Ballyellin, Ballylehane, Ballymoon, Burtonhall, Clogrenan, Clonegal, Corries, Cranemore, Doonane, Farnans, Garryhill, Johnstown, Kilbride, Killedmond, Killerigg, Leighlinbridge, Newtown, Nurney, Old Leighlin, Rathanne, Rathornan, Rathrush, Ridge, Rossmore, Shangarry, Sliguff, Tankardstown, Templepeter, Tullowbeg, Turra.

Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow

Co. Carlow: Rathvilly (2).

Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow:

Co. Carlow: Clonegal (2), Clonmore (2), Hacketstown (2).

Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford

Carlow: Newtownbarry (2).

New Ross, Co. Wexford

Co. Carlow: St Mullins (3).

The Board also included 10 ex-officio Guardians, making a total of 40. The Guardians met each week on Thursday.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 74,727 with divisions ranging in size from Grangeford (population 3,227) to Carlow itself (11,318).

The new Carlow Union workhouse was erected in 1842-4 on a 7.5-acre site ¾ of a mile to the south of Carlow (see map below). Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building was designed to accommodate 800 inmates. Its construction cost £9,000 plus £1,470 for fittings etc. The site location and layout are shown on the 1908 OS map below.

Click on images to enlarge

Site of Carlow workhouse c1908 & Graveyard

The workhouse was declared fit for the reception of paupers on 16th September 1844, and received its first admissions on 18th November 1844.

During the famine in the mid-1840s, sheds were erected to accommodate an additional 160 inmates. A building was hired as a temporary fever hospital accommodating 70 patients.

Wilkinson's proposed design for the workhouse is shown below. Male accommodation lay at the north of the site and female to at the south. Single storey probationary wards lay to each side of the entrance at the west. The the three-storey central portion of the main building probably contained administrative offices, the Master's quarters and Guardians' board room. The wings to each side contained inmates accommodation with children's quarters and school rooms at each end. Kitchens and washhouse lay to the rear, leading to a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall. Infirmary and idiot wards stood at the east, each with its own yard.  A mortuary lay at the rear, with the workhouse's burial ground at the south-east of the site.

Although Wilkinson's design had elements in common with his other Irish workhouses, the long main block with its swept-back wings seems to have been unique to Carlow. The planned arched walkway along the front of the building appears not have been built, although a similar feature can be seen at the St Asaph workhouse in north Wales.

A small lodge stood at the entrance to the site at the west. An entrance and administrative block contained a porter's room and waiting room with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above. Boys' and girls' school wings were situated at each side. To its rear, a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall linked to the main accommodation block which had the Master's quarters at the centre.

A hospital and mortuary were situated at the east, with the workhouse's burial ground at the south-east of the site. 

Carlow workhouse proposed design

Carlow workhouse plan from the north-east © Peter Higginbotham.
Carlow workhouse
Zincographed in 1875,
Carlow workhouse proposed design from the south-west © Peter Higginbotham.

Plan of Carlow Union Workhouse 1873

Plan of Carlow Union Workhouse from Ordnance Survey Map, sheet 25 surveyed in 1873 and zincographed in 1875, under the direction of Lt. Col. Wilkinson (not listed on sheet 25). The scale of map is 10.56 feet to 1 mile. The detail of this building is enhanced by use of colour. The building itself is coloured pink with gable and wall details highlighted in red. The yard spaces are also clearly outlined. Entrance from the Kilkenny Road shows central path bounded by grass and scattered trees. A lodge is situated to the right of the entrance. The symmetrical plan is clearly identified on the map. Part of the Parliamentary Boundary can be seen passing through gable on left hand side of map, and to the County, Barony and Parish boundary along the centre of the River Barrow.

Source: Carlow County Library

The workhouse buildings no longer exist and the Carlow College of Technology now stands on the site.

These photos of Carlow Workhouse was taken pre 1970 when the grounds were
been cleared for the new  Institute of Technology Carlow which now occupies the whole of this site.

The photos is courtesy of Carloman and Carlow County Library..


An Advertisement for Staff Nov 24th 1849

Vacancies having occurred in the Offices of Master, Matron, Porter, Assistant Schoolmaster and Hospital Nurse. The Board of Guardians will on THURSDAY, the 6th December, proceed to the election of Officers to fill the vacancies, on the following terms viz: -

At a salary of £80 per annum, with rations and apartments. This officer will be expected to enter into a Bond of £200, with two solvent Sureties.
At a Salary of £12 per annum, with rations and apartments, and will be required on a Bond of £100, with two Sureties.
At a Salary of £12 per annum, with rations and apartments, and will be required to enter into a of Bond £20, with two Sureties.
At a Salary of £20 per annum, with rations and apartments, and will be required to enter into a of Bond £15, with two Sureties.
At a Salary of £12 per annum, with rations and apartments, and will be required to enter into a of Bond £20, with two Sureties.

Tenders and Testimonials of Competency and Character, to be lodged with me on or before 10 o'clock on THURSDAY, the 6th of December.

Personal attendance is indispensable.

By Order


Clerk of the Union
Poor Law Office

Carlow, 15th November 1849.

Source: Carlow County Library -


1. Carlow County Library.
2. Slater Directory of 1846 (Carlow)
3. Rose Mary Ann Matron Carlow Union Workhouse Kilkenny Road
4. Young Francis Master of the workhouse Carlow Union Workhouse Kilkenny Road
5. Bruen Col. M.P. Chairman of the Board of Guardians, Carlow Union Workhouse Kilkenny Road
6. Butler Sir. Thomas Vice Chairman of the Board of Guardians, Carlow Union Workhouse Kilkenny Road
7. Davies Robert Clerk, Carlow Union Workhouse Kilkenny Road
8. From “Carlow past and Present “ Vol 1  no: 4 1993


The project to catalogue the Carlow Workhouse records.


This project was undertaken with the aid of a FAS funded Teamwork Scheme. It was a challenging and rewarding enterprise, completed in 1991. The results were presented to Carlow County Library.  The completed work contained on 14 computer discs, gives an insight into the conditions at the work house from 1845 to 1923 as well as a detailed account of all the inmates and staff. Also presented was a bound volume containing a history of the workhouse and a compilation of extracts from the 130 volumes



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