The order declaring Clonakilty Poor Law Union came into effect on 3 October 1849. Clonakilty Union was created from areas formerly in the Bandon, Dunmanway, and Skibbereen Unions. Reservation Orders of 5 December 1849 reserved accommodation for Clonakilty paupers in the workhouses of these unions, pending completion of Clonakilty workhouse. Clonakilty Board of Guardians was financially responsible for these inmates. The order declaring Clonakilty workhouse open was received on 5 December 1851.
The Union area consisted of three rate collection and relief districts, and, from 6 February 1852, the three dispensary districts of Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, and Timoleague. Each dispensary district had a district medical officer and dispensary house. The Clonakilty district dispensary house was based in the town’s old fever hospital building. The Clonakilty District Medical Officer was generally also the medical officer of the workhouse.
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. From 1899 on, the newly-created Cork County Council collected rates and funded Cork boards of guardians based on an annual estimate and demand.
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 for 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 25 June 1920 the board resolved to accept the authority of Dail Eireann, instead of that of the LGB.
The responsibilities of the guardians increasingly encompassed public health, and to medical relief for the destitute at the workhouse and ‘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 rate collection and many of its public health functions taken over by the newly-created Cork County Council and the Clonakilty Rural District Council. The board continued to administer the workhouse and its hospital, and to supervise dispensary services, outdoor relief, and the boarding out of children.
In December 1918 a portion of the workhouse premises was occupied by the British military, who evidently continued to use the workhouse and other premises (including Rosscarbery Dispensary) for temporary accommodation in succeeding years. In January 1922 the board confirmed that none of its premises were occupied, although the Clonakilty Dispensary was later occupied by troops of the National Army, in March 1923. The new Home for the Aged and Infirm for the Western District of Co Cork opened in Clonakilty in August 1922, but the workhouse continued to function. As other West Cork workhouses closed from 1918 on, inmates were transferred to Clonakilty from Schull, Skibbereen, Bandon, and Bantry Unions.
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 recorded meeting of Clonakilty Board of Guardians took place on 25 April 1924.
Archival History ↴
The surviving records of the Clonakilty Board of Guardians were deposited in the Archives in the early 1980s.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Clonakilty Board of Guardians ↴
The minutes of Clonakilty Board of Guardians provide an almost unparalleled record, in that they extend from May 1850, just after its creation, to its final abolition in 1924 without any gaps [BG/65/A/1-74]. The Great Famine (1845-49) had a devastating impact on the West Cork region, and while the minutes commence as famine was finally abating, they document its lingering effects and provide information on the number of inmates in 1849 and 1850 (totals for one, two, and three previous years noted in minutes 1850-52). ). 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. Twentieth century minute books also document the boarding out of orphaned and deserted children. The selections from the minutes summarized or quoted in this list focus on the Union’s early years in the shadow of the famine, and on its final years as it became the last ‘working’ workhouse in west Cork. Newscuttings inserted into some of the later minute books giving verbatim reports of some discussions add colour to the official record. Selections are also given from minutes from 1881 and 1914-15, as a sample of other periods.
Also present is a set of statistical minutes from 1905 to 1920 [BG/65/AD/1]. Often bound with general minutes in the minute books of other unions, these formal returns were bound as a separate set by the clerk of Clonakilty union. The weekly returns confirm that union registers and other records have been examined, and provide information on consumption of provisions, the average costs of maintaining inmates, and expenditure by relieving officers on outdoor relief.
One dispensary committee minute book, for Rosscarbery Dispensary district, has survived, and covers the long period from 1852 to 1899 (BG/65/AJ/1). Whiles the board’s dealings with dispensary committees are covered in the main board minutes, the present volume gives greater detail on the provision and management of public health and sanitary services on a local level.
The final item is a minute book relating to the board’s work as a Rural Sanitary Authority under the Labourers’ Acts 1883 and 1885 [BG/65/AL/1]. A record of meetings on preparing and delivering schemes for erecting cottages for the labouring classes, the volume documents the beginnings of the provision of rural social housing in the Clonakilty area.
Board of Guardian records for other poor law unions in West Cork (BG/42 Bandon; BG/43 Bantry; BG/59 Castletown; BG/83 Dunmanway; BG/145 Schull)
Cork County Boards of Health and Public Assistance records, 1921-66
Clonakilty Rural District Council records, 1919-1925
Clonakilty Town Commissioners 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 for 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.
Date of Descriptions