Castletown Board of Guardians first met on 29 October 1849. The Workhouse opened on 18 December 1850. The Castletown area had formerly formed part of the area of Bantry Poor Law Union, but two distinct unions were created in 1849. The area of the Castletown Union included the dispensary districts of Castletown and Kilcatherine. Castletown district contained dispensary houses at Castletown, Adrigole, and Bere Island. Kilcatherine district had dispensaries at Cahermore and Eyeries.
Before Castletown workhouse was declared, inmates from the union area continued to be accommodated in Bantry workhouse, two-fifths of accommodation in Bantry being reserved for Castletown inmates, with the union liable for two-fifths of Bantry’s costs. A temporary workhouse was set up at Cametringane House near Castletown, rented from Lord Berehaven, until the new workhouse was completed. Numbers of inmates continued to be accommodated in Bantry until February 1851.
Each workhouse was managed by a staff and officers under the charge of a workhouse master, who reported to the board. Overall responsibility rested with the union's board of guardians, some of whom were elected, and some of whom were ex-officio members appointed usually from amongst local magistrates. The board appointed its own inhouse committees, and received reports from workhouse officers and from dispensary district committees and district medical officers. It also made resolutions on internal and poor law matters and, sometimes, on wider political or social issues. Poor law services were principally financed by a poor rate levied on property owners in the union’s districts, and collected by rate collectors appointed by the board. Central government also provided loans.
Each union was under the central supervision of the Poor Law Commissioners up to 1874 and thereafter of the Local Government Board (later Local Government Board in Ireland). These government-appointed bodies received reports from the board and its officers, appointed inspectors and auditors, sanctioned or rejected proposed expenditure, appointments, and policies, and made the final decision on major administrative issues. On 11 October 1920 the board resolved to reject the authority of the Local Government Board in Ireland and to accept that of Dail Eireann.
The responsibilities of the guardians increasingly encompassed public health, and to medical relief for the destitute at the workhouse amd ‘outdoor’ relief though a system of dispensary districts were added other functions including overseeing smallpox vaccinations, the boarding-out of orphan and deserted children, monitoring contagious diseases in animals, and providing labourers’ cottages and improved sanitation. The workhouse buildings included an infirmary and a fever hospital. The workhouse also provided nursery care and education to child inmates, and employed school teachers. Hospital and other medical services were available to all, not just the poor, although the latter received free treatment when inmates, or through the system of tickets issued by relieving officers and medical officers.
The guardians’ changing responsibilities were governed by legislation, including the Public Health (Ireland) Acts 1874 and 1878, Medical Charities Acts, Vaccination Acts, Dispensary Houses Act, the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Acts (1848-49), Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1878, and Labourers’ Acts (1883-86). While these acts tended to increase the role of the board, the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 saw most of its public health functions taken over by the newly-created Cork County Council and the Castletown Rural District Council. The board continued to administer the workhouse and its hospital, and to supervise some forms of outdoor relief.
In September 1918 the workhouse was occupied by the military, which remained until December 1919. Most inmates were discharged, those remaining being housed in the hospital. In March 1919 it was decided by the board that the workhouse would not reopen as such. Arrangements were made to transfer remaining inmates to Bantry workhouse. The hospital and the dispensary system continued to operate, although the fever hospital was closed in February 1921.
The Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923 led to the abolition of the workhouse system, and its replacement with the formation of the county boards of health and public assistance. The last meeting of Castletown Board of Guardians took place on 8 May 1924.
Archival History ↴
The surviving records of the Castletown Board of Guardians were deposited in the Archives in the early 1980s.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Castletown Board of Guardians ↴
The surviving minutes of Castletown Board of Guardians cover almost the entire existence of that body, the only unfilled gap being for its final years from September 1921 until May 1924. Two other gaps in the main series of minutes (BG/59/A) are filled by the two volumes of ‘rough’ minutes present (BG/59/AA/1-2). The ordinary minutes include statistical information on workhouse inmates and details of workhouse life and administration. From the 1850s the volumes contain minutes of proceedings under the Medical Charities Acts and, from the 1870s, the Public Health Acts, documenting the board’s increasing role in health and sanitation, and the work of dispensaries and medical officers in the dispensary districts. Early minute books also record the difficulties involved in separating the union from that of Bantry, and in putting rate collection and the provision of services on a good footing.
The other item present, the Castletown Dispensary Committee minute book, 1852-1892, sheds light on the provision of public medical services in a local context. Clinics, vaccinations, midwife services, and tickets for out door relief and admission to the workhouse were all managed locally and reported on to the board of guardians, which approved matters requiring sanction. Dispensaries in Adrigole and Bere Island are also documented.
Taken altogether, the records trace the provision and development of poor law services in the area, including the treatment of the sick and those with mental illnesses, arrangements for children, out door relief and medical treatment (including vaccination) in dispensary districts, the challenges facing public health and sanitary provision, and the beginnings of the provision of labourers’ cottages. The minute books also shed light on dealings with other bodies including the PLC/LGB, the Office of Public Works, Castletown RDC, and Cork County Council. Subjects such as the end and aftermath of the Great Famine, local agriculture and rural ‘congestion’, emigration, and the local effects of World War One are also documented. In addition, some resolutions provide a glimpse of local issues, e.g., the resignation of a popular Catholic chaplain in 1919 [see BG/59/A/87].
Appraisal Destruction ↴
1. Minute Books
A1- 88 Board of Guardian Minute Books 1849-1921 (86 items)
AA1-2 Board of Guardians Rough Minute Books 1874-75; 1894 (2 items)
AJ1 Castletown Dispensary Minute Book 1852-1892 (1 item)
Conditions of Access & Use
Open to researchers holding a current reader's ticket
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Subject to rules governing reproduction of records of Cork City and County Archives
Board of Guardian records for other poor law unions in County Cork, esp Bantry (BG/43)
Cork County Boards of Health and Public Assistance records, 1921-66
Castletown Rural District Council records, 1899-1925
Cork County Council records, 1899- (including rates valuation books)
National Archives of Ireland:
Archives of the Poor Law Commissioners
Archives of the Local Government Board in Ireland
Archives of the Department of Local Government
Descriptive Control Area
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.