Portumna Workhouse
Irish Workhouse Centre

The first national conference on the Irish Workhouse will take place on Saturday, 17th and Sunday, 18th May in Portumna, Co. Galway. The aim of the conference is to give a comprehensive overview of the workhouse system and to consider the future of workhouse buildings that remain today.

Download the Conference Programme.


The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna is dedicated to telling the story of the Irish Workhouse, the last resort of the destitute poor from the early 1840s to the early 1920s. Visitors are guided through the original workhouse buildings and view a short film on life in the workhouse. Open from the 1st February to 30th November each year. Opening times: 9.30 to 18.00 except Feb. March, Oct. Nov. 17.00. Last tour one hour before closing time. Adults €6, Seniors/Students €4, Familes €14, School tours €2.50 per pupil. There are toilet facilities and parking. The Irish Workhouse Centre is located on St Brigid's Road, a short walk from the Bank of Ireland corner.

All going to plan, the Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna will be open to the public for July and August 2011.

The basic idea of the Workhouse System was that families in dire poverty could enter the workhouse and work for food, thus avoiding death from starvation.

163 workhouses were built in Ireland from 1840 to 1858. This was the single biggest building project undertaken in Ireland ever. The workhouse system was an English solution to an Irish problem. It failed

Portumna Workhouse opened in 1852. It operated as a workhouse from the time it opened until the early part of the twentieth century.

The Portumna Workhouse complex is reasonably intact. All the original main buildings (7) survive. SE Galway IRD approached the Health Service Executive, who own the complex, to see if the site could be developed in a way that would benefit the community.

It has been decided to use a number of buildings to house the Irish Workhouse Centre and also to find sustainable uses for the other buildings.

For generations, the workhouse was barely spoken about. The voices of the nineteenth century destitute were mainly unrecorded. And so at the Irish Workhouse Centre, the story of life in the workhouse and society at that time will be told.

While the workhouse represents the life of the "ordinary folk" at this time, in Portumna, one can also visit the Castle, where the landlord lived and so see both sides of the story.

There is another dimension to the Irish Workhouse Centre. In finding new sustainable uses for old buildings, it is an exciting conservation and redevelopment project.

Work carried out on the Project to date includes: the development of a Masterplan; the removal of damaging ivy growth from the buildings; the re-roofing of three buildings and the conservation of 18 original windows. At all times, best conservation practice is adhered to. This work was carried out with the help of Galway Rural Development Ltd., Galway County Council, the Heritage Council and the Department of the Environment. A short documentary was made with the help of the Galway Film Centre and a dedicated project website is currently being prepared.

Participants on the Rural Social Scheme are now working on the Project and carrying out great work in clearing out all the buildings and tidying the site in general.

If you would like further information or to get involved in this exciting Project, contact:

Ursula or Eric
The Irish Workhouse Centre
c/o South East Galway IRD
Abbey St.
Co. Galway

Phone: 090-9741867
Email: irdsegalway@eircom.net

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