Belmullet, Co. Mayo
Belmullet was one of the new Poor Law Unions created in Ireland between 1848 and 1850. Belmullet Union formally came into existence on 29th September 1849 and was formed from the western part of the Ballina Union. Belmullet Union occupied an area of 278 square miles. The population falling within the union at the 1891 census was 14,333. In 1905, it comprised the following electoral divisions:
Co. Mayo: Bangor, Barroosky, Belmullet, North Binghamstown, South Binghamstown, Glenamoy, Glencastle, Glenco, Goolamore, Knockadaff, Knocknalower, Muingabo, Muings, Rath Hill, Sheskin.
The Guardians met at 11am on alternate Saturdays.
The new Belmullet Union workhouse was erected on a 7.5-acre site at the north of Belmullet. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building could accommodate 500 inmates. Its construction cost £5,700 plus £1,145 for fittings etc.
The site location and layout are shown on the 1896 map below.
The most common design for workhouses of this period comprises long two-storey boys' and girls' blocks at the front, with a central entrance gate leading through to a separate T-shaped main building. Belmullet may have originally followed this layout but subsequently joined the buildings to form the 'H' shaped layout shown on the 1896 map. A dispensary was located at the workhouse entrance and a separate fever hospital to the south-east of the main building.
In 1879-81, Ireland suffered an agricultural crisis, with bad weather and poor harvests leading to food shortages and unemployment, with the west of Ireland being particularly afflicted. The British government instigated an ineffectual scheme to fund public works schemes via loans to land-owners. However, the main source of relief during the winter of 1879-80 came from voluntary and charitable organisations, with many Boards of Guardians restricting out-relief either as a matter of policy or because of lack of funds to pay for it. In the spring of 1880, the Belmullet Union was already deeply in debt, but decided to cut poor rates in an effort to help its distressed rate-payers. As a result, the Local Government Board dissolved the Belmullet Guardians and installed its own vice-guardians to try and restore financial order. The severity of the problems in the union were such that the vice-guardians failed to pay off the union's debts which were eventually paid off with the help of a special 'donation' of £1,000 from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, WE Forster.
The former Belmullet workhouse site is now occupied by the Belmullet Community Hospital.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- National Archives of Ireland, Bishop Street, Dublin 8. Holds Board of Guardians' minute books and other papers.
- Local History Department, Castlebar Central Library, Castlebar, Co Mayo.
- Corrigan, Frank (1976) Dublin Workhouses During the Great Famine (Dublin Historical Record, XXIX, No. 2, 59-65.
- Crossman, V (2006) Politics, Pauperism and Power in Late Nineteenth-century Ireland
- Gray, P (2009) The Making of the Irish Poor Law, 1815-43
- O'Connor, J (1995) The Workhouses of Ireland
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