Condemned to the Workhouse

As I took my first few steps, I felt the sorrow in my soul. I looked back at my once tranquil home. I lived there my whole life until now. The potatoes had started to rot, our lives were going to change and for the worst, we were heading to the workhouse.

We walked for two hours before we reached the dreaded workhouse. I had carried my baby sister the whole way and I was weak and tired. I hadn’t eaten anything proper in days.  My father knocked on the huge wooden door. A tall, strong man answered. He brought us inside to the great hall. It was there we were separated from our parents. I walked slowly to my new “home”. There were only two beds and three people already in them. I found a spot in the corner to lay my head.  When it hit eight o’clock we were called out for “dinner”. We had something called “stirabout”.  It was disgusting.

At six a.m. we heard a loud bell. It meant it was time for work. The work was hard and the bosses very strict. The fear in my heart kept me quiet, I had witnessed others cut, bruised and scarred so I knew there were consequences for breaking the rules. All around me there were sick people. I did not know if some of them were dead or alive as I walked by them.  I cried myself to sleep at night, hating every second in this hellish place.

Someone broke into the workhouse one day, I was terrified. He was about to attack a girl but suddenly a guard came to her rescue and he was knocked unconscious. I went to help the woman up from the floor. She thanked me but I knew she was still pretty petrified at what had just happened. Bad things happened all the time in the workhouse. I worried about my parents, we never got to see them after that first day and we did not know if they were still alive. But this was normal for all the children.

After eight years in the workhouse, I left. I searched everywhere to get work. I knew it was the only way I would be able to get my little sister back. After a year, I finally had the money to rent a small cottage and feed myself. I went back to the hellish place I had called “home” for all those years and got Mary back. She ran towards me with delight and threw her arms around me. I knew we were lucky to get out alive as I remembered all the families who died after being condemned to the workhouse.

Josh Ó Glanncaidh, Rang 6, 2014




The Castlebar Workhouse

With a heavy heart, we looked back at our cottage for the last time. We were on our way to the Castlebar Workhouse. We would never see our cottage again.

It all started in 1845 when the potatoes on our farm started to rot due to the blight. When the potatoes rotted in the ground, we couldn't sell the potatoes so we had no money to pay the landlord our rent.When we had no potatoes, we had no income so we couldn't buy food.

That brings us to Mom, Dad, baby Frankie and I taking the long walk to Castlebar. When we reached Castlebar, we saw the filth of the town. There were people moaning and groaning with hunger and disease.

When we reached the workhouse, we saw people crying and shouting for the matron. When mother saw the matron she recognised her as Mother Sarah Jane who was her friend. She took us in.

When we entered the Workhouse, we were split up. Mother went with the women, Father went with the men and baby Frankie and I went with the children.

When 1850 came the Famine was over. Only Father survived.

Le Cleo Ní Bhaoill Rang a Sé, 2012



My name is Blanaid and I am ten years old. I live in a small cottage with my  mother, father, brother Seamus and Tom and my only sister Peggy. We have a small piece of land which we mainly grow potatoes.

This week something awful happened to my family. Two days ago when my father went out to left the potatoes they had rotted in the ground.

All evening mum and dad were sitting at the table and discussing this problem. Tom and I were sitting at the door and listening and we heard them mention a workhouse. We didn`t know what the meant. The next day I heard “where`s the rent?” And then my parents said they didn`t have it. The bailiffs said you have a day to pay or move out! When they went I was very worried.

The next day mum said to gather our things because we were going to the workhouse. I was shocked and confused .Mum said that we could not pay our rent and all are relatives were dead so we have no alternative except go to the workhouse or die on the side of the road. I really didn`t want to go. Late that evening we left to go to the Castlebar workhouse. Walking down the stone path, I knew hat we were never coming back. This is going to be a totally different life.

A workhouse is where very poor people could go to live .Once someone entered the workhouse they wore a uniform and were given a very basic diet .Women, men, girls and boys were forced to stay in different parts. I was only with Peggy.

After ten years I finally got out safely so did all my family. Then I got a job as a cook for a very rich family and I was delighted.

Ailis, Rang 6, 2013



My tummy was aching with hunger. It was our fifth day without food. I could hear my sister Emily crying, and my mother trying to calm her down. Emily had a fever. I barely slept at night since Emily coughed and cried and moved around our mattress. My older brother Tim tried his best to get food by hunting and searching all day long. I was still shocked about our father.

You see a few weeks ago my father got a job making roads. He had to get up very early and he really missed us. He would work hard even in the piercing cold and the scorching hot. Then one day we got a note saying that our father John Smith had died.

Then one day we had enough of the hunger. We needed food to survive. “Where will we go”? Tim asked. A tear rolled down mother’s cheek.”There is only one place” she said. “The Workhouse”. I stared at her. “What was she thinking? We’ve heard awful stories about the Workhouse. Nearly everyday someone dies!

The next day we were off. My heart was pounding rapidly in my chest. Soon we arrived. We knocked on the door. A woman appeared. “What do you want”? she said. We are here to work so we will have  food.”Come  in  then  “, she said. The Workhouse stank. All the people looked so depressed.” I wanted  to  go home but it was too late.”This is your home now”, said the woman. We walked into a tiny room and we were given a uniform and some stirabout which is like watery oatmeal porridge. That night I cried hoping the nightmare would soon end, but how wrong I was to be.

Aoilbhe, Rang 6, 2013



We stumbled along the stony path from our house. Our hearts were beating rapidly. Our potato crops had failed. Blight had infected all our potatoes which made them impossible to eat. When the tide went out my brother Jack and I would run down to collect periwinkles. Father attempted to catch fish and we had a few cabbages. We grew barley, but we got no profit from that. The landlord sold our barley and kept the money for himself. Sadly we weren’t getting enough to pay tax, rent and to buy food. Little baby John had a fever and was starving to death.
That is how we ended up here walking the stony path to the Workhouse. We got into our cart and we were on our on our way. I looked back at our house once more and longed for it to be a normal day on our way to town.
As we approached the workhouse, I felt an urge to run away, but I knew I couldn’t. People lay on the path. Dead or alive I could not tell. We moved sadly onwards to the huge gate of the Workhouse.
My Father knocked once on the gate. A man opened the door gruffly and looked us up and down with a look of disdain. We were interviewed to establish our circumstances. They then shaved our hair off. We felt like animals. Immediately afterwards we were thrown into a bath a freezing cold water. Then it was time to say Good-bye. I hugged my family tight and was whisked off to the girl’s part off the house. It was filthy. We slept on metal beds. We wore a uniform consisting of stockings, calico shifts and petticoats. I felt so ashamed, it was like wearing a sign saying ‘’I AM POOR’’. Candles went out at 8.00, dinner at twelve and supper at six.
‘’Was this it?’’, was this going to be my life from now on?’’With that same sad thought I went to bed every night.

Ciara Ní Annáin, Rang 6, 2013



My heart felt heavy as I looked back at my old house for what would probably be the last time. We were leaving for the workhouse in Castlebar. I wasn’t sure would I ever return to my hometown of Westport.
After about two hours of travelling on foot, we reached Castlebar. It looked terrible. There were dead people on the street and everybody was moaning and groaning. We went into the line for the workhouse. At last we entered. The stench was horrible. It smelt like the walls were made of puke. We reached a hallway. That is where I was separated from my parents. Being an only child, I was on my own.
I started crying when I saw and smelt the state of the place I would be staying in. A lot of people were coughing, had diseases and some were even dead. I tried avoiding everybody but I had to work with them. The building was overcrowded.
By the end of the famine when everybody was let out, only my father had survived out of my family. He had had the whooping cough earlier but he fought through it. I had died after about two months with tuberculosis. (TB)

Conchubhair, Rang 6, 2013



It was a cold foggy night. Mother, father, my brother Patrick, my sister Theresa and I were just leaving Belmullet for Westport. We had lost our home as the crops had blight so there was no money left to pay the rent.
When we had arrived, we were separated. Father went to the men and us children to the children section. Teresa was very upset leaving mother but she had no choice.
Our main meal was stirabout. We had very strict rules that we had to obey.
In 1847 Teresa fell ill, she had pneumonia and typhus. By December Teresa’s body was gone. The matron Celia O’ Malley sent her to the fever shed but she was already gone.
The master Peter A Lennon and the medical attendant Anthony Gill were always in their offices except in emergencies.
My schoolmaster was Margaret Lennon and we we’re schooled from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon.
In 1847 they we’re forced to turn out 600 inmates.
By 1851 none of the Morans survived.


Erin, Rang 6, 2013



As we looked back at our cottage, never to see it again, we remembered all the great memories. The last memory we had was us getting kicked out because because our parents couldn’t pay the rent.

My family and I were now on our way to the workhouse. After all that had happened it was the only place left to go. I had already heard the bad stories about it and I was not looking forward to going to it.

After an hour, we reached the workhouse, there were people in front of the gates trying to get in. When the matron let us through, we were separated. Mum and Dad went one way and my sister Emily and I went another way. We were led to a room with two beds and already three people in the room.

There was a rotten smell and everyone had diseases. Women were walking around slapping kids and giving out to them. There were people lying on the ground with barely any movement. The place was crowded with children crying and dying.

Sinéad, Rang 6, 2013