The Early Workhouses in Galway

This article was written by Samuel J. Macguire and originally published in the 'Galway Reader' in the 1950s. The 'Galway Reader' is available from Galway Public Library.

Poverty in Galway

The poor of Galway up till the seventies of the last century lived under the filthiest conditions of overcrowding, without sanitation or doctors. Talking of the doctors of the period Latocnaye (a French émigré) writes of the doctors of Galway at the end of the eighteenth century:

"... the cost of law and I may add, of medicine is exorbitant - not only are the poor absolutely deprived of the help of the latter, but event those of moderate means cannot afford it. The middle classes can hardly expect to see one of Messieurs, the disciples of Hippocrates, under a guinea or two guineas per visit. However it must be admitted that doctors often make it a duty to visit, for nothing, folk who cannot pay anything, and among these latter are some very well-educated and respectable persons.""Before the union the population of Galway and Liberties was estimated to be 40,000 but the economic conditions of the people were miserable. The two was neglected and extravagantly dirty. Pigs wandered the streets, fish offal was everywhere and manure heaps were piled in the roadways. Smallpox was the scourge most dreaded as destructive of beauty and still more destructive of life. The death rate was high, and continued to go up until after the passing of the first Public Health Act in 1848."

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