Ballinrobe Workhouse book launch at Ballinrobe Library by the Ballinrobe Writers' Group

A group of writers from Ballinrobe have launched a book documenting the history of the Ballinrobe workhouse, and the suffering of those who passed through its doors. Dozens packed into Ballinrobe library for the book launch, which has been almost a year in the making.

Spearheaded by local historian Averil Staunton, Editor, the book was completed by the group despite information on Ballinrobe’s workhouse being described as ‘non-existent’.

As well as extensive information on the history of the workhouse, the book contains many heart-breaking anecdotes from those who lived, suffered and died there.

Plans, diagrams and drawings of the workhouse are also contained within the 204 pages of the book, as well as original poetry penned by members of the Ballinrobe Writers Group’.

Although workhouses were regulated environments, conditions were frequently over-crowded, unsanitary and disease-ridden.

Boys, girls, men and women were all segregated upon entry to the workhouse. They also had to relinquish their holdings to gain admittance to the institution, which was seen as a last resort for the poorest in society.

First opened in 1842, the Ballinrobe workhouse was designed to hold over 800 inmates but ended up accommodating over 2,000 at the height of The Great Famine.

The six-acre complex closed after it was attacked during the War of Independence. Today, the main reception building is used as a commercial premises.

Speaking at the launch of the book, Ballinrobe Writers’ Group member Ellen Finnerty said that the book will be of benefit to the general public and to those doing academic or family research in future.

She added that many of the difficulties experienced by those who lived in the workhouse were still being faced by people all over the world.

“Unfortunately, the experience for many people around the world of poverty, famine, natural disaster, starvation, destitution, exploitation and emigration are still a reality,” said Ms Finnerty.

While documenting the horror experienced by those living in the workhouse, the book also notes ‘the small deeds of practical help, human kindness and generosity that was evident and saved the lives and spirits of the many’.

“We here in Ballinrobe are part of the local, national and parochial history that it upholds, and we are also the caretakers of the history and heritage of our town and local area. Ballinrobe workhouse is a small part of that,” said Ms Finnerty.

She also paid tribute to Averil Staunton, Editor and to Dr Michael O’Connor, who then gave a lecture on sexual abuse in Mayo workhouses.

In his lecture, Dr O’Connor spoke about Honoria Byrne, a matron working in the Ballinrobe workhouse who exposed the deplorable conditions in the workhouse to the authorities.

Ballinrobe Writers’ Group has constructed a memorial garden at the workhouse burial ground, where hundreds of former workhouse inmates are buried today.

The group also recently hosted Lyn Nash, who travelled from Australia to see the place where two of her ancestors were once housed.

‘Remembrance – Creative stories woven into the history of Ballinrobe Workhouse, Co. Mayo is available locally in Martin Murphy’s shop and at Castle Books, Castlebar and Duffy’s bookstore, Westport for €15.

Read Oisín McGovern’s original article in the Mayo News at:

Standing room only in Ballinrobe Library for the launch of 'Remembrance - Creative stories woven into the history of Ballinrobe Workhouse, Co. Mayo (Pic: Trish Forde)
Pictured at the launch of 'Remembrance - Creative stories woven into the history of Ballinrobe Workhouse, Co. Mayo at Ballinrobe Library on Friday 11th August for Heritage Week were members of Ballinrobe Writers' Group, with speaker Dr. Michael O'Connor. Front - left to right: Bernadette Moran, Averil Staunton, Editor, Dr. Michael O'Connor, Imelda Hughes, Ellen Finnerty and Anne Patterson Back left to right: Margaret Twibill, Mary Tiernan, Bridie McMahon, Mary Joyce, Marian Doyle and Claire O'Malley
Trish Forde
The event was funded by iCan, a National Museum of Ireland initiative delivered in partnership with the Heritage Council

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