A recent tweet from a project on welfare and public health in Belfast 1800 – 1973 at Queen’s University Belfast drew my attention to a collection of Poor Law Union Maps and figures for Poor Relief in each union across the entire country from 1851 to 1911.
Following the 1838 Poor Relief Act for Ireland, Poor Law Unions were formed. A Poor Law Union consisted of a number of electoral divisions, each division containing a number of townlands. Each Union was governed by a Board of Guardians, who were elected from each constituent electoral division.
The Board of Guardians were responsible for the provision of Poor Relief for their Union, which included the running of the workhouse and the dispensing of outdoor relief. Outdoor relief was assistance given to someone not residing in the workhouse. Outdoor relief could consist of food or money.
The Irish Poor Law Union Maps, published on the Oxford Brookes website make for some interesting reading (unfortunately, the link has now been removed from the Oxford Brookes website). The first map ‘Provinces’ is interactive and you can select one of the four provinces of Ireland and within each province you can select a particular union. The link will show you the Poor Law statistics for that union in 1851, 1871, 1891 and 1911, including the population of the Union and the number of persons in the workhouse for each year. These tables illustrate changes in population across the country, as well as the increase or decline in workhouse occupancy and the provision of outdoor relief.
The 1851, 1871, 1891 and 1911 maps, that follow the Provincial Map, illustrate the rate of poor relief in each union across the entire country. Working from map to map, it is possible to see the progression of poverty across the country from 1851 to 1911.
If you are interested in the effects of famine, migration and poverty had on the area in which your ancestors were living, these maps might be worth exploring. Before you start, you need to identify the Union in which your ancestors were residing. There is an excellent function on John Grenham’s website which identifies all of the townland names found in each poor law union. You can also use the placename search function at Irish Origins which is free and will identify the Union in which your townland is found.
For more information about the workhouses in each Irish Poor Law Union, you can visit www.workhouses.org.uk/Ireland. There is also a list of sources for Board of Guardians and workhouses for each county in Ireland at the Poverty and Public Health in Belfast blog.