Stories from the Dungannon workhouse

The following news items appeared in both local and national newspapers during the lifetime of the workhouse: 


In January 1879 the Dungannon Board of Guardians issued the following address of condolence on the death of Princess Alice and it was forwarded to Queen Victoria:

‘unanimously agreed that the following address of condolence, on the death of the Princess Alice, should be forwarded  We, the chairman and guardians of the Dungannon Union, assembled here this day, beg leave humbly to approach your Majesty with our united feelings of condolence at the late severe affliction which has fallen upon your Majesty to the death of your beloved daughter, the Grand Duchess of Hesse-Darmstadt. It seems but a short time since we congratulated your Majesty on the recovery of the Prince of Wales, when this devoted Alice-like a guardian angel, watched over a beloved brother on his bed of sick ness, and attended with filial care a noble father on his death-bed. She has now been taken from us, and we are left to deplore a public and private loss, not only calamitous to a disconsolate husband and children abroad, but to her own family and country at home. If grief such as yours can be assuaged by the utterance of sincerest sympathy, your Majesty has gained that comfort from your loyal and attached people, who have forgotten their own misfortunes in your trouble, and who now earnestly pray that time may alleviate the sorrows of your heart, and that with patient submission to this inscrutable blow of the Divine will you may be sustained in this your heavy bereavement.-Signed, “John Y BURGES, chairman.


During a debate on the closing of workhouses and merging of others John Boyd, clerk of the union, reported on the feelings of the Dungannon Board of Guardians:

The guardians of the Dungannon union are unanimously of opinion that amalgamation of unions is most desirable but looking to the geographical position of this union and taking into account that since the formation of this union railway communication now exists to Pomeroy district and a new line of railway is at present being constructed to Cookstown and taking also into account that the indoor paupers of the seven unions of the county Tyrone: namely Omagh, Strabane, Castlederg, Gortin. Clogher, Dungannon and Cookstown average only about 950, the guardians are of opinion that three workhouses say Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane since these have accommodation for 3,000 inmates would more than afford ample accommodation for the entire county

1881: Praise for the Medical Officer, William Leatham

The Dungannon board of guardians in lately noticing the facts concerning a fever stricken family in Coalisland made special mention of the kindness of their medical officer Mr William Leatham to the family in question. One act in particular is more credible to Mr Leatham than either to the neighbours or the poor law service. He had to carry the fever-stricken family on his back to the fever cart. The necessity for work of this sort is only a specimen of what medical men have to do and do cheerfully, is not fair to them. The ambulance arrangements of the poor law system should be so organised as to obviate such demand either on neighbours or on the much enduring doctor


On Wednesday a pauper of Dungannon workhouse name Mcglone had been doing some ordinary work near a part of the building were in a stack of coffins is always kept on hand and seeing one of the windows open he went and looked in. He had no sooner done so then he saw the form of a man rising up from one of them. Mcglone affright ran helter skelter into the workhouse and related the occurrence. Others returned with him when upon closer examination it was found to be a  man named Law who had quietly laid down again. He had made the coffin his resting place during the night. Law, who is a pensioner, is rather eccentric. He had been out the previous day and returned at night somewhat under the influence of drink on which occasions he made it a practise to lie about the grounds but the coldness of the night and the inviting appearance of the straw which the coffin contained, it having been previously used for conveying the corpse of a woman home to her friends to be transferred to another one, no doubt had the infect of inducing him to adapt the coffin as a sleeping berth for the night.


For the aged and infirm, the workhouse was the best option for many to spend their final years. In 1895 a man named Daniel McGuin who was resident in the workhouse claimed to remember the illuminations in Dungannon to celebrate the British victory at Waterloo. Veterans of several wars were also housed in the workhouse when they reached infirmity.


The Dungannon Poor Law Guardians granted outdoor relief to a man named McSorley, who was aged 105, and his wife who was aged 98.

May 1898

During the weekly meeting of the Dungannon Guardians, Col. Burges  invited the guardians to spend day at Parkanaur with him, and the Queen’s birthday, was fixed for the event.

In the same year the Dungannon Board of Guardians were among several boards to oppose the appointment of Miss Anne Magill as a rate collector for the Clogher Union on the grounds that she was a woman and unfit for such a position.


The Earl of Ranfurly spoke at the inauguration of ‘Arbor Day’ (tree planting and a celebration of trees in general) at the Dungannon Workhouse on 17 March 1905 where ornamental trees, namely variegated sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Variegata’), chestnuts (Aesculus) and lime (Tilia) were planted.

1909 Unpleasant Revelations

DUNGANNON GUARDIANS. Unpleasant Revelations. The bi-monthly meeting of this Board was held under the presidency sir. Hunt W. Chambre, J.P., chairman, presiding. In reply to Mr. Richardson, the Clerk said that there was an average twenty inmates in the Workhouse during the year over the previous year’s number, and the same increase applied to the recipients of outdoor relief. There were fifty-two ‘tramps’ the Workhouse during the week. The Master reported that a number of ‘inmates’, old men and women, were at present sleeping on straw mattresses on the floor. The Clerk said there was not likely to a diminution in the number inmates, and it was therefore decided to procure a number of iron bedsteads and hair mattresses…The question of the proposed increase of £lO to the Master’s salary was then considered. At previous meeting the Guardians had allowed him the usual annual bonus of £lO but the Local Government Board had refused to sanction any further bonuses, and suggested that it was open to the Guardians to increase his salary. The Clerk, in reply to Mr. Irwin, said that the Master’s salary was £6O per annum, with rations and apartments, and that he was thirty-eight years in the service. The original salary had been £4O. The Guardians unanimously admitted that the Master was admirable officer, but a motion to increase his salary by was defeated by thirteen votes to eleven.


The fortnightly meeting of the Dungannon guardians, the relieving officer asked whether he should give outdoor relief to a man named Patrick O’Neill who resided in a house made of mud and sticks which he erected in the townland of Tamnamore. Mr Erskine stated that the old man was living like a rabbit in a borrow and he suggested that the workhouse should be offered. Mr Cadoo said ‘why he would die if he came in here, he would be too comfortable’(laughter). It was decided to refuse them an outdoor relief and to offer the workhouse.

June 1914: Temperance and the broken windows

Yesterday morning it was found that a plate glass window in the ‘tramps’ ward in Dungannon workhouse had been broken during the night and on making an inquiry the workhouse master was informed by a ‘tramp’ named Thomas Reade that he had taken a bottle of ‘blow hard’ from two other ‘tramps’ as they were drunk and noisy and had thrown it at the wall with the intention of breaking it but it had  unluckily come through the window. Unfortunately for his temperance professions, the master stated that it was Reade himself who had some what had been somewhat unsteady while the other men were sober. He was subsequently brought before Michael McRory JP and TJ Aiken JP at a special court and charged with maliciously breaking the window. The magistrates to charge him with a caution on condition that he left the town at once.


DUNGANNON GUARDIANS. The fortnightly meeting of Dungannon ‘Guardians was held on 24th ult.. Mr. -Robert Newton, J.P. (chairman), presiding, when the workhouse master reported that books had been forwarded by local ladies for the use of the ‘inmates’. He had distributed a quantity of them in the old women’s ward, but he alleged that the matron had thrown them out into the boys’ yard. (Laughter.) Later in the day he had occasion to go to the men’s yard, and the matron followed him and barred the door, and told him that he would not get back that way. He knocked at the door repeatedly, but could not get out, with the result that he had to go another way. Mr. Fitzgerald, Local Government Board Inspector, who was present, said that the officials should go to a chemist and take a dose each morning. The reports seemed childish. It was decided to request the matron to furnish a written explanation.

March 1915

There was further discussion of the friction among the officials at Dungannon workhouse at this week’s meeting of the board. Miss Toner, assistant Infirmary nurse, sent in her resignation and Miss McGaharan, the charge nurse, wrote complaining that she had daily been subjected to petty annoyances and insult. A resolution was moved that a sworn inquiry be held, but the chairman ruled it out of order on the ground that it had already been decided that all complaints should be referred to the medical officer with a view to a settlement.

October 1915

DUNGANNON GUARDIANS. At Dungannon Board of Guardians on Thursday Joseph Campbell drew attention to the Action of the Board in taking down the weekly allowance of one ounce of tobacco weekly to the old men by half. He considered it a great hardship on the men and moved that the change be rescinded. Mr Newton remarked that some of the old men had served their country and were entitled to the tobacco.

June 1916

Albert Kerr who has been workhouse master in Dungannon for seven years has resigned his position having obtained a more lucrative appointment. The resignation was accepted and the chairman Robert Newton JP said the guardians could practise economy by not filling up the vacancy until the end of the war. There was no reason why the matron could not take charge. It was decided however by 11 votes to 9 to advertise for a master and on the motion of Mr Daly it was arranged to give preference to wounded soldier if otherwise qualified.

February 1917

Dungannon guardians have decided to greatly reduce the bill of fare for inmates and officials, especially with regard to meat and bread. A committee was appointed to minutely inquire into the consumption of coal in the institution.

April 1917

Dungannon border guardians yesterday adopted (Mr. James Harkin JP dissenting) the resolution of the Carrickfergus urban council requesting the government conserve the grain and sugar now utilised in manufacturing of alcoholic liqueurs until six months after the war owing to the serious shortage of foodstuffs.

February 1918

Mr Fitzpatrick local government born inspector in his half yearly report to the board commented very favourably on the condition of Dungannon workhouse taking it as a whole. Cleanliness and tidiness were extremely well observed especially in the body of the house and the matron deserved much credit. The master who was appointed in July 1916 was working satisfactorily and would make an excellent official.


In 1920 the Dungannon guardians allowed £8 for the purchase of a new suit for the workhouse porter, who it was said should look respectable at all times. In the same year the cautioned an ‘untidy inmate’ who had a habit of visiting the town. His explanation was that he wanted ‘buns’.

May 1926

Dungannon board of guardians had before them yesterday the report sent from the Ministry of Home Affairs as a result of the inquiry held by their medical inspector, Dr McCloy into the administration of that Dungannon workhouse Infirmary. The earlier part of the report deals with the various matters which came under review at the meetings of the guardians in the early part of last year. The report observes the great stress was laid by the clerk of the guardians on the number of nurses who had resigned during the preceding two years as indicating dissatisfaction and goes on to point out that the number of nurses who left the institution during the years 1923 to 1925 was abnormally great but the supposition that the resignations were due to dissatisfaction with the conditions under which they worked is not borne out by an analysis of the reasons given for leaving namely: marriage (7),  higher salary (3), illness (2), protests against appointment by guardians to the fever hospital (5). These figures, the report, added tended to confirm the evidence of the charge nurse and others that there was no friction up to April 1925.



The proposal the Dungannon Board of Guardians purchase Northland Hons© and grounds, the property of the Earl of Ranfurly, at the agreed price of £4,500, for conversion into district hospital has received serious setback. At meeting the Guardians letter was read from the Ministry of Home Affairs stating that in view of the opinion expressed by Mr. Megaw, K.C., to the effect that the Board had no statutory authority to build a hospital, the Ministry considered it well to put the matter before its legal adviser. The latter concurred with the opinion, and in the circumstances it appeared that, apart from the other difficulties in the way of carrying out the proposed transactions, there was no legal authority enabling the Guardians to proceed with it. It would be possible for the Dungannon Urban and Rural Councils to combine in constructing the hospital, but it was probable that legislation would be introduced within the next few years for the reorganization the poor law and hospital service of Northern Ireland it would, the whole, be better to defer further consideration of the matter until then.


DUNGANNON GUARDIANS. Dungannon Board of Guardians yesterday discussed the abolition of the piggeries at Dungannon Workhouse owing to the proximity to the hospital. The matter was left to a committee. The Guardians having decided to advertise for their dispensary and maternity nurse for Dungannon at £lOO per year. and stipulating that the nurse must be single and in the case of marriage that she resign, a letter was read from the Ministry of Home Affairs taking exception to the terms of the appointment relating to the resignation of the officer on marriage. It was decided to adhere to the original terms of the appointment and inform the Ministry that the Guardians did not approve of married midwives.

The ‘Inmates’ Tobacco, 1939

There were heated exchanges at Dungannon board of guardians between Mr Joseph F Stewart, Nationalist MP and the clerk, Mr William McGuffin following Mr Stewart’s question about a suggestion to curtail the tobacco supplied to the ‘inmates’. The master Mr. Roberts said that the supplies were not to be curtailed for the present, it would not be fair to do so the old man would be living in misery. Mr. Stewart asked who had suggested it? The clerk said that he had suggested it in view of the increased prices

Mr. Stewart- oh fiddlesticks. I would start at the top with a paid officials and with every executive officer instead of the poor paupers and take at least 25% of their salaries

Clerk – That should have been done years ago.

Mr. Stewart said: we will reverse that position and start at the top. You pose as a great patriot and upholder of British imperialism and here is a great opportunity for you to give the lead not only to the members, but the executive officers of every board in the 6 counties and you could do it very well coming from you the suggestions to deprive these poor people of tobacco was very bad taste.,,,

As the row rumbled on, Mr Jr Erskine JP remarked that the chairman should put his foot down and stop these rows. ‘The place was becoming like a bear garden’.

October 1958

South Tyrone hospital management committee, Dungannon
were told yesterday of an invasion by ‘Wild cats’. The matron Miss ER Earle
said the cats which she described as ‘wild’ were climbing through the windows
of the hospital and sitting on the patients beds. She added ‘there are two
official cats in the hospital and that is sufficient’. Mr Joseph Stewart MP
said the cats were a ‘legacy’ from the former workhouse when the inmates kept
them as pets.


June 1992

The Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew
visited Dungannon today to open an exhibition marking 150 years of service to
the community on the South Tyrone hospital site. the exhibition which is to open
to the public today and tomorrow consists of 15 stands showing different
aspects of the workhouse and hospital over the years. Sir Patrick said as I
examined some of the exhibits on display particularly all medical instruments,
I wondered how the patient survived the attempts to cure them let alone the
illness itself’.