Clifden Poor Law Union was established in August 1840 and covered an area of 296 square miles. Its workhouse was located on a four-acre site at the south side of the Galway Road. The land for the workhouse was acquired by the Poor Law Commissioners under a 500 year lease dated 23rd January 1842 from H D'Arcy. It cost £3,600 to build and £900 for fittings. Its original capacity was for 300 inmates . Although the workhouse was ready for admission in 1845 it did not receive its first inmates until March 1847.
The surviving minutes, which commence in 1849, show that the highest number of inmates in the workhouse was during the period January to March 1850 when there were just less than 2,000 in the house. By 1858 the number had dropped to around 100, and generally fluctuated, depending on periods of distress, between 80 and 150 from then on. The official capacity of the workhouse in 1897 was 822, though at that time there were only about 130 inmates in the workhouse.
The Union’s operation was initially overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, initially 12 in number, representing the electoral divisions of Ballindoon, Clifden, Renvyle and Roundstone. The Board also included 4 ex officio Guardians, making a total of 16.
The Union was re-organised in about 1851 at which time the following electoral divisions came under its jurisdiction, Clifden, Derrylea, Inishbofin, Ballinakill, Cleggan, Cushkillery, Rinvyle, Bunowen, Derrycunlagh, Dunloughan, Errislannon, Bencorr, Illion, Moynes, Roundstone, Knockbog, Owengowla, Silerna, and Skannive. The number of guardians was also increased to approximately 21.
Dr Suffield, the workhouse doctor between 1848 and 1868, wrote that upon taking up his post he had ‘…the workhouse, a fever and cholera hospital in Clifden, five auxiliary workhouses in different localities’ under his care (GPL3/37, f66).
The Clifden Board of Guardians generally met weekly in the Boardroom of the workhouse, though during the early 1870s it only met about twice a month. Extensive minutes were kept of their meetings together with detailed statistical information pertaining to the administration of the Union.
The poor law system was abolished in 1925 with the formation of the county boards of health and public assistance. The last recorded number of inmates in the workhouse, for the week ending 19th November 1921, was 60. The minutes for the remaining Board’s meetings deal with the closure of the workhouse, and the transfer of materials, and of the old and infirm inmates (GPL3/107, p560) to the Home in Loughrea.
Under the amalgamation of Unions scheme, introduced by Galway County Council, 206 officials employed in the Unions in the county were dispensed with. The Union Masters, Clerks, Matrons and other staff received pensions or gratuities.
A year after the closure it is recorded in the Board of Health & Public Assistance: Hospital & Dispensary Committee minutes that Dr Casey reported ‘… that Clifden Workhouse Buildings are gradually disappearing. The Dispensary has been completely destroyed, and he removed to a private house whatever drugs etc, were left …’ (GC6/1, 9 December, 1922, p7).
Archival History ↴
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Clifden Board of Guardians ↴
This collection consists of Board of Guardian Minute books (86) with gaps, a Damp press copy letter book (which can be difficult to decipher), a Diet book and two volumes of Incoming Letter books.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
Conditions of Access & Use
Digitised and available online at
Conditions Governing Reproduction
No material may be reproduced from the collection without the written permission of the archivist, and reproductions are subject to the conditions of access.
1849-1921 (with gaps)
Characteristics Tech Req
Several volumes received extensive conservation treatment in 2013.