Entertainment in the Workhouse

Entertainment in the Workhouse

One of the highlights for ‘inmates’ in the Dungannon workhouse was undoubtedly the annual musical entertainment which were given at Christmas and on other occasions throughout the year. Organised by local groups within Dungannon and elsewhere, these occasions lifted the gloom which surrounded life in the workhouse. 

Here is a selection of entertainment given in the workhouse:

In January 1872 the Belfast Newsletter reported
the following:

On Tuesday last the inmates of the union workhouse were treated to a miscellaneous entertainment in one of the large wards of that building which was nicely decorated. The entertainment was originated by some local ladies who take a kindly interest in this and similar institutions. Many of the elites of the town and neighborhood were present and gave valuable assistance in carrying out the proceedings which commenced at 5:00 o’clock and continued for over 3 hours. Tea, scones and afterwards oranges were dispensed… Mr Jacob of the Erasmus Smith School exhibited by limelight a large number of views nearly all painted by himself the movements of a walking doll delighted both young and old. The members of the town band led by Mr Byrne played at intervals and added greatly to the pleasure of the evening. The master of the workhouse Mr Tackaberry deserves special mention for the admirable arrangements…

Organized by Dean Byrne, the entertainment were thus described:

All the inmates who were able to be present were heartily welcomed. No narrow distinction of class or creed to blight the harmony of being there. After the appetites were satisfied there were provided a most enjoyable nights entertainment. A large and well trained choir rendered with excellent taste several good choruses were rapturously applauded. The most amusing being the vociferous and extravagant applause of a deaf mute while a couple of young ladies sang songs with sweet expression and pathos. The Dungannon brass band discoursed some music also. The delight of the inmates really knew no bounds, hands and feet keeping time to the music… The Dungannon amateur dramatics club were there and a real stage with scenery, footlights and all complete were provided. The piece selected was a one act farce entitled ‘More blunders than one’ by Thomas E. Bodwell… The scenery was painted by Hugh Burnie of Irish Street the acting taking all round was much beyond the average provincial amateur posturing. The several performance in this club are evident well up in the art and created genuine applause from both inmates and visitors.

 In the latter years of the 19th century entertainment such as this occurred several times a year in the workhouse.  1892, the Belfast Newsletter reported on an evening of entertainment towards the end of January:

On Monday evening last a tea, followed by a variety entertainment was given to the inmates of Dungannon workhouse by Mr Robert Brown of Donaghmore and a number of ladies and gentlemen residing in Dungannon neighborhood. When the tables were cleared Mr Jacob Orr with the aid of a powerful magic Lantern produced on the canvas and number of dynamic views representing scenery in and around the neighborhood of Belfast a choice program of songs quartets choruses and recitations was afterwards gone through.

To celebrate the new year in 1894, entertainment was provided at the workhouse;  Thomas Tackaberry  commenting:

 on Tuesday evening last Very Rev Dean Byrne gave an entertainment to the inmates of the workhouse which consisted of tea and fruit cake. Afterwards a varied performance was gone through comprising musical drill, fan drill, and recreations by the children of Ann St National School under the direction of Miss Makin, Miss Devlin, Miss Kilkenny and songs by several ladies and gentlemen from the town. At the close of the entertainment that was a liberal distribution of tobacco snuff and oranges to the adults and the ornaments of a Christmas tree were distributed amongst the children by Miss Loughran, Miss Henry and Miss O’Neill. At 10:00 o’clock the inmates retired to their respective wards being highly delighted with the splendid treat as kindly provided for them.

In 1907 another night of entertainment took place at the workhouse… Afterwards packets of tea and tobacco were presented to the adult inmates, and sweets and oranges to the children. With William McGuffin was clerk of the union….Several local people were present for the dramatic entertainment, while Mr Thackaberry, master of the workhouse oversaw the proceedings. The entertainment was sponsored by  Colonel Ynyr H Bruges (1834-1908), DL of Parkanaur who was a former chairman of the Board of Guardians.

At the 1915 social event held in the workhouse the following entertainment was provided:

The chair was afterwards taken by Mr J. Hamilton, solicitor, and a lengthy programme was contributed as follows: Pianoforte and violin selections, ‘Tipperary land’ by Miss F Clarke and Mr H Whitelaw. Mrs Cingston sang ‘when Irish eyes are smiling and was loudly encored. Mr Joe Doonan contributed a humourous song, entitled  ‘Hold your hand naughty boy’ and as an encore ‘oh you beautiful doll’. A duet, ‘No Sir, was given in a pleasing manner by Miss F Aiken and Miss Wheery.