Donegal 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 records of Donegal Union are incomplete as all 19th century minutes and registers were destroyed in a fire at the workhouse in 1914. Only records from 1914 have survived.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Donegal Board of Guardians ↴
The surviving archives of Donegal Poor Law Union are the official records of the poor relief system established under the 1838 Poor Law (Ireland) Act and subsequent Acts. The minutes of the meetings of the Donegal Board of Guardians (BG/75/1/1- 14) and the admission and discharge registers (BG/75/2/1 – 8) record the activities of the Union in provision of indoor and outdoor relief for the poor of the Union. The minutes are evidence of the administration of the workhouse, fever hospital and infirmary; and the admission and discharge registers give the names of those admitted to the workhouse, whether male or female, aged or infirm, or children, able-bodied or disabled, men or women, working or infirm.
The registers include dates of admission and discharge or death and give statistics on the numbers of those in the fever hospital or infirmary during each week.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
No further accruals are expected.
The collection has been arranged in the following order, minute books and registers.
Conditions of Access & Use
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Bound volumes cannot be photocopied. Digitisation is allowed under certain circumstances.
Material Language Script
Characteristics Tech Req
Bound volumes, care required while handling as there is some minor damage to spines of some volumes.
All documents have been microfilmed for preservation and access.
BG/38 Ballyshannon Board of Guardians
RDC/2 Donegal Rural District Council
Descriptive Control Area
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions