Clifden, Co. Galway

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Clifden Poor Law Union was formed 24th August 1840 and occupied an area of 296 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 12 in number, representing its 4 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Co. Galway: Ballindoon (2), Clifden (3), Renvyle (3), Roundstone (4).

The Board also included 4 ex officio Guardians, making a total of 16. The Guardians met each week on Wednesday at noon.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 28,639 with divisions ranging in size from Ballindoon (population 4,793) to Roundstone (9,942).

The new workhouse was designed by George Wilkinson and occupied a four acre site at the south side of the Galway Road, about a qurter of a mile to the east of Clifden. It cost £3,600 to build plus £900 for fixtures and fittings, and could accommodate 300. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 22nd December 1845, although the first inmates did not move in until 8th March 1847.

Clifden workhouse site, 1898.

The buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the west contained a porter's room and waiting room at the centre with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above. This was later extended at each side with a boys' school at its south and a girls' school at the north.

The main accommodation block housed the Master's quarters at the centre, and male and female wings to each side. At the rear, a range of single-storey utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse connected through to the infirmary and idiots' wards via a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall. A fever hospital was subsequently erected at the east of the workhouse. A dispensary was located at the roadside at the north of the site.

A supposed view of the workhouse appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1850, although the building bears little resemblance to any other Irish workhouse.

Clifden Union Workhouse, 1850.

Clifden came under great pressure during the famine years of 1846-48, and the union effectively became bankrupt.

Apart from a few small fragments of wall, the workhouse buildings are now completely demolished and the site is occupied by a factory.

Clifden Union workhouse site, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Clifden Union workhouse wall, 2000.
© Peter Higginbotham.


In 1905, workhouse staff were as follows:

  • Master - John Wrin
  • Matron - Margaret Broughton
  • Chaplains - Rev. Canon TH Fleming (COI), Very Rev. Canon McAlpine (RC)
  • Medical Officer - PC Gorham


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • Galway local archives, Island House, Cathedral Square, Galway. Holdings include Board of Guardians' minutes (1849-1913).


  • None.


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