Administrative History ↴
The first meeting of Dunmanway Board of Guardians took place on 1 February 1840, the union having been declared on 18 December 1839. The Union Workhouse was declared fit to receive inmates on 16 September 1841 and took its first admissions on 2 October of that year. An Order of 3 October 1849 altered the union, with parts of Dunmanway Union being given to the newly-created Clonakilty Union, and part of Bandon Union being added to Dunmanway. A Reservation Order of 5 December 1849 reserved a portion of the accommodation in Dunmanway Workhouse for inmates from Clonakilty Union, pending the completion of that Union’s own workhouse (opened 5 December 1851).
Unions were divided into electoral divisions (EDs) for electoral and rate collection purposes. Over time, larger dispensary districts and relief districts, consisting of several EDs, came into being. The Dunmanway Union consisted of the Dispensary Districts of Dunmanway, Ballineen, and Coolmountain. Each district had a medical officer and dispensary. The workhouse also had a medical officer.
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 15 June 1920 the board resolved to pledge allegiance to Dail Eireann, and not to submit minutes to 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 Dunmanway 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 1895, the British Medical Journal reported on Dunmanway workhouse, following an inspection: ‘When we see such a travesty of sick nursing as prevails in this Union we wonder why the guardians go through the form of providing the medical officer with drugs and an official called the "nurse." His only essential equipment is surely a book of death certificates and a pen with which to write them. In our opinion the sick department requires complete reorganisation; the wards are quite unsuitable, and the responsible officer, whatever work she may have done in the past, is now quite unfit for her duties, and should be superannuated. A. suitable infirmary and a staff of two trained nurses is our recommendation. Once more we plead for comforts for the aged, armchairs, better heating and lighting in the wards, a responsible attendant, and sanitary appliances which conduce to health and decency. There was a touch of humanity about the administration which we were pleased to note; the defects are those of an evil system more than of those who work it.’ (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/BMJ/Dunmanway.shtml)
On 25 May 1920 the workhouse infirmary was occupied by the military. Several meetings were subsequently adjourned owing to the military presence and the difficulty of securing a quorum. At the last meeting recorded in extant minutes, held on 20 November 1920, the clerk is asked to produce union books ‘at certain places as we shall specify’, meetings no longer being held at the workhouse. While the workhouse was not burned, unlike several other west Cork workhouses, patients and inmates were transferred elsewhere owing to the military occupation. For example, a letter dated 12 May 1921 noted in the minutes of Bandon Board of Guardians records the transfer of fever patients from Dunmanway to Bandon (BG/42/A/110).
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 workhouse fever hospital was designated a district hospital under the new system.