Christmas in the Workhouse

At Christmas, the Board of Guardians provided a meal and entertainment for the ‘inmates’ in an effort to provide some cheer to
what was a somewhat bleak and dreary abode. Every Christmas Lady Pembroke sent number of books and papers for the use of the inmates to Nurse McGaharan, who was the instigator of the festivities in the workhouse. Music was also provided on these occasions. In 1902, on the ‘Feast of St Stephen’, a variety of impromptu entertainment was given in the infirmary of Dungannon Workhouse.

Under the auspicious of the nursing staff, the different wards were neatly decorated, a profusion of holly and ivy lending a seasonable aspect to the ornate embellishments. The patients who were ‘snugly tucked up in their well-appointed beds, seemed to take a sunny side of life, and throughput the entertainment by their sustained applause indicate the existence of a well stored fund of vitality’. Warrant Officer Donohoe of the Royal Artillery, upon his unique concert gramophone, replete with the most up to date records, charmed the audiences and evoked peals of laughter’. A selection of vocal and instrumental music followed which included pieces by Staff Sergeant Harbour RA; Messrs M Crighton, JM Kilkeary, Daniel Birney and Joseph Goodwin. 

In 1916 the Board of Guardians provided the usual treat to the various classes of inmates on Christmas Day and their efforts were supplemented by Miss Brown of Donaghmore who forwarded a quantity of toys and sweets for the children. The extras included roast beef, a plentiful supply of tea, plans and currant cake, rice pudding, oranges and apples, while all smokers got an extra allowance of tobacco. The outdoor relief patients and ‘boarded out’ children received an extra money allowance. At Christmas 1935 the Dungannon Board of Guardians granted a special diet and extras for the patients and ‘inmates’. Mr Joseph F Steward, MP suggested that stimulants should be provided for the inmates, and added, ‘there was more friendship in a glass of whiskey than a churn full of buttermilk’. However, the clerk said it could not
be granted’.

Among those who took an active interest in the plight of the workhouse ‘inmates’ were the Brown family of Donaghmore. As well as providing a space for the workhouse children to visit and play, Robert Brown was also active in providing reading material for ‘inmates’. In 1890 he appealed for public assistance in furthering his efforts at the Dungannon workhouse, and to extend it to other workhouses in Ireland. He wrote:  

I’ve had a box of newspapers for the Dungannon workers placed in the post office and it has worked admirably. We get quite as much literature as the inmates can use and the master reports that it is very much appreciated I am very anxious to get this system extended for I find that in nearly all the work houses of Ulster and Connacht no provision has been made and a great many other points in the management would need a little care and the comfort and health of the inmates be vastly increased.