Cork Board of Guardians

Repository: Cork City and County Archives

Identity Statement

TitleCork Board of Guardians
Archive ReferenceIE CCCA/BG/69
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1839-1925(1933)
Level of DescriptionFonds
Extent Medium308 items (36 series)


Creator(s): Cork Board of Guardians (Cork Poor Law Union)

  • Administrative History ↴

    Cork Poor Law Union was established under the Poor Law (Ireland) Act, 1838, by an official order dated 3 April 1839 to cater for Cork City and its immediate hinterland. It was one of c.14 Unions in the overall County Cork area. Each union was centered on a city or market town and its hinterland, and this union area sometimes ignored existing parish or county boundaries. In this central town was situated the union workhouse (usually built between 1838 and 1852) which provided relief for the unemployed and the destitute. In the case of the Cork Union, the Cork House of Industry, a charitable 'workhouse', adjacent to the South Infirmary Hospital, was designated as the temporary union workhouse catering for Cork City and its hinterland and it opened on 1 March 1840, with the withdrawal of the former House of Industry Governors. A new purpose built workhouse, located at Douglas Road, Cork, with an attached infirmary, opened in late 1841/early 1842. Each workhouse was managed by a staff and officers under the charge of a workhouse master. Overall responsibility within the union rested with the Board of Guardians, most of whom were elected, and some of whom were ex-officio members appointed usually from amongst local justices of the peace /magistrates. The electors were owners and occupiers of property liable to pay the poor rate. The boards of guardians were vested with wide statutory powers and were under the direction and control of the Poor Law Commissioners and from 1872 of the Local Government Board. The boards of guardians were financially maintained by a poor rate levied on occupiers of property in the union district, and tenants could deduct half of the rates from their rents. Various Guardian sub-committees were from time to time appointed to monitor different aspects of the organisation of the Cork Union Workhouse, for example, visiting/house, admissions, administration, education, and finance. In the first years of the poor law system, in general no relief was provided outside the workhouses, however from 1847, limited outdoor relief was provided in certain cases. Later, various other responsibilities were allocated to the Guardians in the areas of public health, sanitation, and housing. For example, under the Medical Charities Act 1851, Boards of Guardians took over responsibility for dispensaries from the Grand Juries, and the unions were divided into dispensary districts for which medical officers were appointed. In 1856 the Guardians became the burial ground board for the rural parts of the union. In 1863, the unions were used as registration areas for the registration of births and deaths. Under the Sanitary Act 1866, the Guardians became ‘sewer and nuisance’ authorities, and under the 1874 and 1878 Public Health Acts, in general, as well as being the poor relief authorities, the Guardians were designated rural sanitary authorities, dealing with various matters such as water and sewerage schemes, scavenging, building control, lodging houses, markets, slaughter houses, infectious diseases and burial grounds. Under the Labourers Act 1883, the building of rural cottages was also allocated to the guardians. The poor law system was abolished in 1925 with the formation of the county boards of health and public assistance. During the War of Independence, the Cork Board of Guardians declared allegiance to Dáil Éireann. In November 1920 Vice Guardians (effectively paid commissioners) were appointed to manage the workhouse, on behalf of the Board of Guardians. In common with many former workhouses, the Cork Union Workhouse buildings were taken over for use as a home and hospital (St.Finbarr's).
  • Archival History ↴

    The vast majority of collection ref. BG/69 was transferred to the Archives in c.1982 by the Southern Health Board from St.Finbarr’s hospital, Cork. An accrual, consisting 14 account/stores books plus 1 minute book (No. 146), was received in 2009 from the Health Service Executive.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Cork Board of Guardians (Cork Poor Law Union) ↴

    The archives of the Cork Board of Guardians are extensive, and include a large number of minute books, that record the proceedings of the Board’s meetings, 1841 – 1924. Many subjects are recorded in the minute books, such as the ongoing struggle to both fund and manage the workhouse and related services, attitudes to poverty, assisted emigration, and developments in public health provision and sanitation, and the care of the infirm, the destitute, children, and the mentally ill. From about the 1880s, the minutes also provide glimpses of the rise of nationalism.

    Minutes of the Cork Dispensary Board/Committee for the 1890’s, and the Cork Rural Sanitary Board for the 1870’s.

    Extensive correspondence in the form of incoming and outgoing letter books, principally with the Poor Law Commission (PLC) , and later with the Local Government Board (LGB), 1839-1918. Also found is a set of original Orders and Circulars issued by the Poor Law Commission in the earliest years of the Cork Union, 1839-1850.

    Financial account books, 1839-1925, including an extensive run of general ledgers, and day to day records, for example recording payments to suppliers. Also found is a printed Abstract of Account, giving receipts and expenditure and number of paupers relieved, compiled by Clerk of the Union and the Auditor, for year ending 29 Sep 1887.

    Outdoor / out relief records consist of a partial record of boarded out children, 1901-1903, and a report book by relieving and medical officers of various districts in the Union, 1912-1933, relating to the provision of out relief, extending into the period following the abolition of the Board of Guardians.

    Records of the internal administration, and day to day management of the workhouse, 1847-1924, including storekeeping books, master’s report books, visiting committees report books, staff time and wages books; and registers of the Cork Union Boys’ National School, 1873-1904.

    Records of inmates of the workhouse, 1840-1923, consisting of an extensive series of indoor relief registers, plus a less extensive set of indices to the registers, and an indoor relief list from 1924-1925. These series contain mainly personal information, and are thus a notable source for genealogical and family history research. A related series are the records of deaths in the Workhouse, which are also quite extensive, covering the period 1853-1931.

    Register of Children at Nurse, recording of the fostering/boarding out of children, 1893 – 1924.

    Inspector’s report, 1923, relating to an enquiry into the administration of the workhouse during the term of office of the Vice Guardians, who were appointed in November 1920.

    The collection is of particular interest to the study of the 19th century and early 20th c. period, the Irish poor law system, and the Great Famine. It helps to document the social, economic and political history of the Cork Union, and covers many subjects and issues both local and national in scope.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    1. Minute Books, 1841 – 1924 (155 items)
    2. Correspondence 1829 – 1918 (31 items)
    3. Accounts 1839 – 1925 (54 items)
    4. Out Relief 1901 – 1933 (2 items)
    5. Boarding Out 1893 – 1924 (1 item)
    6. Workhouse Administration 1847 – 1924 (32 items)
    7. Workhouse: Inmates 1840 – 1925 (45 items)
    8. Returns of Deaths 1853-1931 (7 items)
    9. Miscellaneous 1923 (1 item)
    In total, the collection comprises 36 series; see table of contents.
    (Arrangement is based on McMenamin’s classification, see ‘Irish Archives Bulletin’, October 1971)

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Open by appointment to those holding a current readers ticket.
Creation Dates1839-1925(1933)
Level of DescriptionFonds
Extent Medium308 items (36 series)
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Characteristics Tech ReqIndoor relief registers are consulted in microfilm format only.
Finding Aids Descriptive list Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Copies InformationMicrofilm copies of Indoor Relief Registers.
Related MaterialCCCA: Board of Guardian records for other poor law unions in County Cork. Also, Cork Board of Health and Public Assistance records. National Archives of Ireland: Archives of the Poor Law Commission and the Relief Commission

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteBrian McGee Archivist CCCA January 2011
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000. IGAD: Irish Guidelines for Archival Description. Dublin: Society of Archivists, Ireland, 2009.
Date of Descriptions2011