Macroom Board of Guardians

Repository: Cork City and County Archives

Identity Statement

TitleMacroom Board of Guardians
Archive ReferenceIE CCCA/BG/115
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1852-1924
Extent Medium40 items, mainly volumes


Creator(s): Macroom Board of Guardians

  • Administrative History ↴

    Macroom Union was declared by the Poor Law Commissioners on 20 December 1939 and an order declaring its workhouse fit to receive paupers was issued on 1 October 1842. The first admissions occurred on 13 May 1843. A PLC order dated 3 October 1849 altered the area of the union somewhat. 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 Macroom Union consisted of the Dispensary Districts of Macroom, Cannaway, Clonmoyle, Inchigeela, and Slievreagh. 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 19 June 1920 the board resolved to pledge allegiance to Dail Eireann, and subsequently did not 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 Macroom Rural District Council. The union’s clerk was also clerk to the RDC, and several members were common to both bodies. The board continued to administer the workhouse and its hospital, and to supervise dispensary services, outdoor relief, and the boarding out of children. However, in 1921 the workhouse was burnt down during the ‘Troubles’. Officials were dismissed and the destitute and sick of the Macroom area were sent to Cork Union Workhouse and other institutions. The Macroom board paid the related expenses. Remaining premises were occupied by the National Army from September 1922. 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 final meeting of Macroom board of guardians was held on 26 April 1924.
  • Archival History ↴

    Most of the surviving records of the Macroom Board of Guardians were deposited in the Archives in the early 1980s. One item, BG/115/DF/1, the Inchigeela Dispensary Medical Officer’s Report Book, was deposited separately, and originally had the reference code U337. There are many gaps in the series of minute books, and it is likely that records were destroyed in the fire at the workhouse in 1921.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Macroom Board of Guardians ↴

    Unfortunately, many of the records of Macroom union have not survived, possibly owing to the fire which destroyed the workhouse in 1921. Only 22 volumes of minutes of board meetings, one indoor relief register of inmates/patients, and a few other volumes are in existence. There are no minutes prior to 1884 and many gaps thereafter up to the final volume for 1923-24. The early years of the union, and its experience of the Great Famine (1845-49), which is known to have made a grave impact on the region, sadly are not documented in the present collection. The present minutes do, however, shed light on the provision of poor law and public health services in this relatively remote area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dispensary services, out door relief, and the boarding out of children are all extensively documented, for example. There are also many references to the need for district doctors to have a knowledge of Irish, owing to the large Irish-speaking population of the area. This became something of a political issue in 1920, as the board sought to increase its own use of Irish and to include a language requirement when making appointments, despite opposition from the LGB (BG/115/A/19). The board made many political resolutions, in particular calling several times for the release of political prisoners. In 1923 it voted not to sign a letter from the Local Government Department requiring that preference be given to former National Army members when making appointments. It was further resolved not to meet until political prisoners were released, although this was later rescinded (BG/115/A/22). Overall, the minutes provide a varied, if piecemeal, picture of the Poor Law at work, and of the development of local government and nationalist and republican politics, in the Macroom area.

    The three surviving letterbooks (BG/115/BA/1-3) supplement the minutes with sets of letters received, mainly from the Local Government Board and the Local Government Department, the first two volumes covering years (1901, 1918) for which no minutes have survived.
    The financial records present, including general ledgers (BG/115/CA), one receipts book (BG/115/CD), and a bank pass book (BG/115/CL) shed light on the daily operations and transactions of the union in the 20th century.

    The Inchigeela Dispensary Medical Officer’s Return Book (BG/115/DF/1) is a rare example of a dispensary statistical record, and while it does not give names, it does give information on numbers of patients and the nature of their illnesses. It is also the earliest surviving record (1852-54).

    The one remaining indoor relief register (BG/115/G/1) provides information on inmates and hospital patients in the period 1916 to 1921, and may be of interest for family history research, as well as providing a glimpse of workhouse life in the final years of the system. The matron’s requisition book (BG/115/HH), documenting purchases for the infirmary, adds a different perspective.
    The final two items present, the Boarded Out Children Contract Book (BG/115/IC) and the List of Boarded Out Children (BG/115/ID), both covering the early decades of the 20th century, are rare examples of such records, which have not survived for other Cork unions. They document vital childcare services in the era before formal adoption, and, together with the minute books, shed light on the lives and experiences of orphan, founding, and deserted children at that time. They add a fascinating extra dimension to this incomplete but important collection of Poor law records.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    1. Minute Books

    A1- 122 Board of Guardian Minute Books 1884-1924 (22 items)

    2. Correspondence

    BA1-3 Inward Letterbooks (LGB/LG Dept) 1901, 1918, 1922 (3 items)

    3. Accounts

    CA1-10 General Ledgers 1899 – 1924 (8 items)
    CD1 Financial Statement Book – Receipts 1905 – 1913 (1 item)
    CL1 Bank Pass Book 1920 (1 item)

    4. Statistics (Dispensary)

    DF1 Medical Officer’s Monthly Return Book, 1852 – 1854 (1 item)
    Inchigeela Dispensary

    5. Workhouse: Inmates

    G1 Indoor Relief Register 1916 – 1921 (1 item)

    6. Workhouse: Infirmary

    HH1 Matron’s Requisition Book 1894 – 1921 (1 item)

    7. Boarded Out Children

    IC1 Boarded Out Children Contract Book 1901 – 1922 (1 item)
    ID1 List of Boarded Out Children 1902 – 1920 (1 item)

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Open by appointment to those holding a current reader's ticket
Conditions Governing ReproductionSubject to rules governing reproduction of records of Cork City and County Archives
Creation Dates1852-1924
Extent Medium40 items, mainly volumes
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids Descriptive list Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Related MaterialCCCA: Board of Guardian records for other poor law unions in West Cork (BG/42 Bandon; BG/43 Bantry; BG/59 Castletown; BG/65 Clonakilty; BG/83 Dunmanway; BG/145 Schull) Cork County Boards of Health and Public Assistance records, 1921-66 Macroom Rural District Council records, 1899-1921 (RDC/115) Cork County Council records, 1899- (including rates valuation books) U337 Inchigeela Dispensary Medical Officer’s Monthly Returns 1852 – 1854: now BG115/DF1 Elsewhere: 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

Archivist NoteTimmy O’Connor
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions40848