The Schull Board of Guardians was the governing body of Schull workhouse and poor law union. Schull Poor Law Union was established under the Poor Law (Ireland) Act, 1838. It was one of 16 unions in the overall County Cork area. Each union was centred 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.
Schull Poor Law Union was created on 3 October 1849, and the Workhouse opened on 19 January 1850. The Schull area formed the western part of the Skibbereen union area before this time. Unfortunately no records for Skibbereen Board of Guardians have survived. The area of the Schull Union included the dispensary districts of Schull and Goleen. The Schull district included a dispensary depot at Ballydehob, while the Golleen district included a depot at Ardravinna.
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 31 August 1921 the board resolved to send minutes to the Local Government department of Dail Eireann, instead of 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 most of its public health functions taken over by the newly-created Cork County Council and the Bantry Rural District Council. The board continued to administer the workhouse and its hospital, and to supervise some forms of outdoor relief.
On the night of 25 June 1921 the workhouse was burned down. It appears many of the records of the board were destroyed in the fire. Remaining inmates were boarded out or sent to other institutions, including workhouses and hospitals in Bantry, Clonakilty, and Cork. The board continued to administer out door relief. In late 1923 a house belonging to the union was occupied by the national forces. Several houses in the town came to be used as offices for the conduct of union business.
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 last recorded meeting of Schull Board of Guardians took place on 28 April 1924.
Archival History ↴
The surviving records of the Schull Board of Guardians were deposited in the Archives in the early 1980s.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Schull Board of Guardians ↴
The surviving minutes of Schull Board of Guardians (BG/145/A) cover only the last four years of its existence. It would appear that earlier minutes and other records were lost when the workhouse burned down in June 1921. As no records for Skibbereen board of guardians have survived, the history of poor relief in this large area of west Cork is sadly largely undocumented. The Great Famine (1845-49) is known to have had a catastrophic impact on the region, but information on this period may only be gathered from other sources, such as the records of the Poor Law Commissioners. The development of poor relief and public health services in the Schull area in the later part of the nineteenth century, and the changing structures which followed the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, are also not recorded in the present collection. The surviving minutes, for the period from May 1920 to April 1924, do shed light on the last days of the workhouse, and on out door relief and the dispensary district system. The boarding out, or fostering, of children is a recurring subject. The changing relationships with the Local Government Board, the Local Government Department of Dail Eireann, Cork County Council, and other unions and institutions are also recorded. Dealings with Bantry, Clonakilty, and Cork unions, in the context of the proposed amalgamation of unions, and the loss of workhouses, first in Bantry and later in Schull, are particularly interesting. The minutes also reflect the politics of the time. Many selections from the minutes for this final period in the union’s history are included in the list below.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
1. Minute Books
A1- 3 Board of Guardian Minute Books 1920-1924 (3 items)
Conditions of Access & Use
Open by appointment to researchers holding a current reader's ticket
Conditions Governing Reproduction
Subject to rules governing reproduction of records of Cork City and County Archives
Board of Guardian records for other poor law unions in County Cork, especially Bantry (BG/43), Clonakilty (BG/65), and Cork (BG/69)
Cork County Boards of Health and Public Assistance records, 1921-66
Schull Rural District Council records, 1919-1922
Cork County Council records, 1899- (including rates valuation books)
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
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.