Opening of the Workhouse

Opening of the workhouse

On 10 September 1839, George Moon, clerk of the newly formed Dungannon Poor Law Union  issued a note to have the union valuated, that is to identify all of those who would be liable for the maintenance of the workhouse. Before the commencement of the workhouse itself, this was perhaps the most important role which had to be carried out to ensure that all those who were liable for the rates of the union were brought into the valuation. In the first valuation of the union only 224 ratepayers were identified in a union consisted of 102, 474 acres with a population of 66,075 people, although the number was soon increaed. 

Officially declared on 20 July 1841, with a Mr Clements, Assistant Commissioner to the Poor Law Commissioners assigned to oversee the building of the workhouse, the cost of constructing the workhouse included the building contract of £6,650; fittings £800 and a further £300 for the boundary wall and other contingencies. 

In November 1841 the newly elected guardians began to organize for the fixtures and fittings in the workhouse and also for items such as bedding and clothing to be acquired for the building. Advertisements for tenders, who were required to send patterns and samples of the articles, which included blankets, coverlets, linens etc were issued with preference given to the lowest tender for each, which naturally meant that the best goods were not always supplied to the workhouse. This work was overseen by the newly appointed clerk of the union, George Moon.

The opening of the workhouse in Dungannon was eagerly anticipated as was the filling of the various positions. None more so than the appointment of the medical officer in December 1841: The Newry Telegraph reported that:

The election of Medical Officer to the Poorhouse of the Dungannon Union took place Thursday, in the Courthouse. Three candidates
were proposed; and, after a careful investigation of their respective credentials and claims, Doctor Dawson was elected by large majority ; the Guardians considering it no trifling additional recommendation to his other qualifications, his having sustained a highly honorable character for upwards of 26 years in Dungannon, as a general practitioner. The following were the numbers polled for each: William Dawson. M.D., 19; William Nevill, MD, 9; James Hamilton, Surgeon, 1.

The Newry Telegraph continued:

The Workhouse will be completely finished a few weeks and fit for the reception of paupers. The Poor Law Commissioner for the Union, Mr. Clements, inspected the concern last week and has given the contractors, Messrs. Thomas and John Lilburn, great credit for the proper and satisfactory manner which they have completed the building. We are happy to learn that the Messrs. Lilburn have also obtained the contract for the Clogher Union, and will immediately commence the building, which will give additional employment poor that neighbourhood.

However, there were some delays that winter and by March 1842 the guardians were voicing their displeasure with the apparent hold up in the works:

The board took into consideration the stays of the works at the workhouse and how they were proceeding it appeared that the works were not going on and away to ensure the readiness of the house for reception of the poor and the time expected and the board considering the present distress of the poor in the neighbourhood and the one for relief it was resolved the clerk should write to the honourable Mr Clements assistant commissioner and request his interference in order that the works may proceed with as little delay as possible for the purpose of having the house opened for the poor immediately it being now considerably past the time allowed the contractors for building the house.

 The involvement of Mr Clements obviously had the desired effect as the workhouse admitted its first ‘inmates’ during the summer of 1842. These first ‘inmates’, as they would be called by the guardians, entered a building that was not yet complete in many respects. In August the guardians complained that the ‘water-cock in the probationary warrants are of a bad quality and consequently leak freely’, while other problems persisted. In December the master noted that the pump in the washhouse was constantly out of order and that the chain for hoisting the potatoes from the boiler was broken and unfit for purpose. Many of the costs involved in building the workhouse were queried by the Poor Law Commissioners who deemed the cost of the building to be excessive, although Messrs Lilburn were not blamed for these faults and indeed they won other contracts in the county as a result of their work on Dungannon workhouse. 

Problems like this were not uncommon and other workhouses in Ireland experienced similar beginnings. When William McGladrigan, a 35 year from Donaghmore, died in September 1842 the Dublin Medical Journal reported the guardians were unsure as to whether an inquest was to take place, for in the early months of the workhouse system many things were uncertain to the
master and his officials. McGladrigan was only in the workhouse three days when he died, but it was said that he had been sick for ten days previously.