Ballyshannon Poor Law Union was established under the Poor Law (Ireland) Act 1838. Under this legislation, the country was divided into one hundred and thirty-seven poor law unions. The unions were controlled centrally by the poor law commissioners until 1872 when the Local Government Board was established. Each union was run by a board of guardians whose duty was to oversee the running of each workhouse.
The 1838 Act gave a number of powers to the Commissioners, and through them to the Boards, including to employ staff to collect rates and in the administration of the 'relief and management of the destitute poor' and to build workhouses 'for any Union not having a Workhouse', or to purchase or lease land for such a building and to maintain the workhouses.
The Guardians were granted the power to 'relieve and set to work….the destitute poor as by reason of old age, infirmity or defect may be unable to support themselves, and destitute children….[and others] who cannot 'support themselves by their own industry, or by other lawful means'. Part of the Act made it a responsibility of the Guardians to provide Register Books detailing those admitted into and relieved by the workhouses. The Act also compels each Union to maintain detailed accounts.
Relief granted to individuals under the act was deemed to be a loan and recoverable as such. No-one had a statutory right to relief under the Act, it was to be granted under the Boards' discretion, though under an amending act in 1847, when the Famine was creating a terrible toll on lives, the right to relief of certain groups, including the destitute, was recognised, and at this time, outdoor relief sanctioned.
In Donegal there were eight unions, Ballyshannon, Donegal, Dunfanaghy, Glenties, Inishowen, Letterkenny, Milford and Stranorlar.
Archival History ↴
The Ballyshannon Poor Law Union records were held both at the workhouse in Ballyshannon and the courthouse in Lifford for many years before Donegal County Council's Archives Service was set up in 1999.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Board of Guardians of Ballyshannon ↴
Ballyshannon Poor Law Union archives include a range of archival material such as: the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Guardians from July 1840 to June 1922; the rough minutes (drafts) from July 1840 to July 1844; abstracts of accounts of Ballyshannon Union, which include statistical information on the management of the workhouse; account books from 1899 to 1921; abstracts, showing the number of paupers relieved, the number and cost of emigrants, and the relief administered by way of loan, 1844 – 1873; diet and clothing registers, 1906 – 1921; indoor relief registers and admission and discharge registers which give the date when admitted to or born in the workhouse, if previously relieved, name, address, gender, age, marital status, if child legitimate, illegitimate or deserted, employment e.g. tramp, religion, name of spouse and number of children if not in workhouse, details of condition and when discharged or died, 1906 – 1921. The collection also includes photographs of Ballyshannon workhouse as it is today, the most intact workhouse in Donegal, a building still partly in use by the HSE and Donegal County Council.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
Two more boxes of archives relating to Ballyshannon Poor Law Union were removed from the old attic in Ballyshannon workhouse and have yet to be fully listed. It is not expected that any more will be found.
The collection was arranged in the following order: Minutes; Rough Minutes; Finance; Statistics; Medical Material; Registers; Correspondence; Photographs.
Conditions of Access & Use
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Bound volumes cannot be photocopied. Digitisation allowed under certain circumstances.
Material Language Script
Characteristics Tech Req
Bound volumes, some of which are damaged and require great care in handling. There are also individual sheets, most of which are in good condition. Most of the collection is microfilmed and access to the collection is generally to the microfilms.