Portumna, Co. Galway

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Portumna was one of the new Poor Law Unions created in Ireland between 1848 and 1850. Portumna Union was formally declared on 22nd February 1850. It was created from the southern parts of the Ballinasloe and Loughrea unions, and occupied an area of 121 square miles. The population falling within the Portumna Union at the 1901 census was 9,054. In 1905, it comprised the following electoral divisions:

Co. Galway: Abbeyville, Ballyglass, Coos, Derrew, Drummin, Eyrecourt, Killimor, Kilmalinoge, Kilquain, Meelick, Moat, Pallas, Portumna, Tiranascragh, Tynagh.

The Guardians met each week on Saturday.

The new Portumna Union workhouse was erected on a nine-acre site half a mile to the north of Portumna. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building was intended to accommodate 600 inmates. Its construction cost £6,700 plus £1,175 for fittings etc. The site location and layout are shown on the 1933 OS map below.

Portumna workhouse site, 1933.

The layout was somewhat different to Wilkinson's earlier designs, and was a similar size and layout to the workhouses at Castlecomer, Clonakilty, Urlingford and Mitchelstown which were built at around the same time. The front of the site at the south had a central entrance, flanked by a long two-storey block at each side.

Portumna general view from the south-west, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.

Portumna rear of western front block from the west, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.

To the rear, the main buildings had a T-shaped layout. The single-storey wing to the south probably contained the dining-hall and kitchens. Above it hung the workhouse bell which governed the daily life of the inmates.

Portumna dining-hall/kitchen wing from the south-west, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.

The two main accommodation wings, one for men and one for women, were three storeys high.

Portumna western accommodation wing from the south, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.

A two-storey hospital block stood at the north of the site.

Portumna hospital block and rear of accommodation block from the north-west, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.

By 2002, the former workhouse site had become semi-derelict with one of the front blocks being used as a local council depot. In recent years, the buildings have undergone extensive renovations which revealed the survival of many unique features. In July 2011, the site was reopened as the Irish Workhouse Centre giving visitors a chance to explore one of Ireland's best preserved workhouses.

Portumna workhouse from the south, 2014.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Portumna workhouse from the south, 2014.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Portumna workhouse girls' block and chapel from the west, 2014.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Portumna workhouse girls' dormitory, 2014.
© Peter Higginbotham.

Portumna workhouse infirmary block from the south, 2014.
© Peter Higginbotham.


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