The Kilkenny Workhouse

In 1838 a Poor Law was introduced in Ireland. The country was divided into Unions each administered by a Board of Guardians. These Guardians were given powers both to build and run Workhouses. Prior to the Famine Kilkenny had two Unions in Kilkenny and Callan..

In 1840 the Kilkenny Board of Guardians applied for an Exchequer loan under the 1838 Act of 9,700 to build a Workhouse to accommodate 1,300 extendable to 1,700. The Kilkenny workhouse opened in April 1842.

Conditions in the Workhouse for inmates were grim. The poor were seen as lazy and slothful so conditions inside were made as unattractive as possible. Provided food was of very poor quality, strict segregations of sexes was practiced so families were split up and inmates were expected to work in tedious monotonous tasks that were of no commercial value.

Workhouses were built to three set designs depending on size. The architect was George Wilkinson. The Kilkenny one was the largest specification.

In 1845 potato blight, a previously unknown disease destroyed over 45% of the crop in Kilkenny. Over the next years the disease was to return. In 1846, virtually the whole crop was destroyed. The inadequacies of the legislation, revenue base and practices of the Poor Law System were brutally exposed by the ensuing demographic catastrophe. By 1849 there were 2,069 inmates in the workhouse and many cases of cholera and dysentery. The number of inmates peaked at in 1850 at over 3,000. Extra accommodation had also to be sourced in houses in Blackmill Street, Greensbridge and James' Green.In the post-Famine period the workho

In 1923, the new Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act lead to the abolition of the Board of Guardians and the conversion of the workhouse into a county hospital. It remained in use up to 1942 with the opening of St. Luke's general hospital on the Freshford Road. The site was then used by Kilkenny County Council to house their vehicle fleet and for storage.

As part of a major urban regeneration project for the area, Kilkenny County Council moved its machinery yard and storage facilities to the nearby Hebron Industrial Estate. A large site incorporating the Workhouse, the old McDonagh railway Station and some other buildings was redeveloped into the McDonagh Junction Shopping Centre. This development preserved the buildings of the workhouse and parts of the old McDonagh Railway Station merged with new structures in a mixed retail, leisure, cultural and residential complex.


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