Irish Workhouse Centre - Portumna
The Irish Workhouse Museum is a heritage centre that narrates the devastating effect the Irish Famine had on the population and the conditions those impoverished had to endure, it is the only centre in Ireland committed to telling the story of the Irish Workhouse. It is a real workhouse that was intended to accommodate 600 inmates, all seven of the main buildings remain on this eight acre site. There were 163 workhouses operating in Ireland from the early 1840's to the early 1920's, the options available to the Irish were, emigration, starvation or the workhouse. It is a sad part of Ireland's history.
Their purpose was as a means to get tenants off the land, on entry they had to give up any land they owned. They offered a lifeline to those who could not support themselves. Once here they would have to work in return for food. Life was harsh and disciplined here to serve as a deterrent and not encourage those who came to stay. The food was of poor quality and just enough to survive, there was not much to do and numerous rules to obey.
The workhouse was a last resort for the destitute from the early 1840's to the early 1920's. They were also referred to as poorhouses and have been described as "the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland", during a visit it will became evident why. This workhouse has been sympathetically restored to demonstrate what it was like in an actual workhouse and the conditions that the occupants lived in. Visitors are taken through the workhouse buildings, starting the tour in the only nice room in the house, the Boardroom. Moving onto the waiting hall, this is where those seeking entry to the premises would have stood, entire families had to enter together. Next is the girls schoolroom, where there is a short film on the history and social aspect of the workhouse, how families would have been separated on entry, this was the hardest aspect of the workhouse for many. Visitors are then taken through the girls yard, the women's dormitory block, the matron's quarters, the nursery, the women's workroom and the laundry building. A visit will take about an hour. The experienced guides are entertaining and knowledgeable, portraying the story in a sympathetic way, they are happy to answer any questions visitors might have.
It is not surprising that these institutions were despised by the people and have stayed in the memory of people for generations, it was a social stigma with no one wanting to own up to having had relatives here.
Whilst here vistors also have the opportunity to see on going conservation and restoration work in progress.
The museum is open daily from March to October from 9.30am to 6.00pm.