The Master's Journal

Thomas Tackaberry, master

One of the few surviving documents from the years of the Dungannon workhouse is the journal kept by Thomas Tackaberry, the county Wexford native who served for many years as master of the building. The entries, which cover the years 1887-1896 highlight the many mundane duties carried out by a workhouse master. However, the journal also adds significantly to our understanding of life within the workhouse, for both ‘inmate’ and official alike.

Among the many entries recorded are accounts of:

– the children in the workhouse being taken out for exercise on a weekly basis on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday of each week;

– the Children being invited by the Brown family in Donaghmore and others for activities, accompanied by the workhouse schoolmaster;

Mrs Brown also supplied pictures for the wards of the workhouse. Others such as the Rev Dr Ringwood and Mrs Newton of Killymeal provided tea, sugar, tobacco, snuff etc., for the elderly ‘inmates’ at Christmas and Halloween, while Mrs Dickson organised entertainment to the ‘inmates’ in January 1888.  Old newspapers were gathered in Dungannon for the workhouse ‘inmates’ and donated also by people like Robert Brown of Donaghmore

The master’s journal also includes entries about the various forms of entertainment which was provided throughout the year for the ‘inmates’. For example, on 1 January 1891 he noted: The master begs to report that Reverend Dean Byrne gave an entertainment to the inmates of the workhouse on Tuesday evening which consisted of a liberal supply of tea and currant cake. Also a musical and dramatic performance which evidently gave great pleasure to the audience. At the close the Dean distributed tobacco and snuff to the old people, sweets to the children, and oranges to all. Several ladies and gentlemen from the town and neighbourhood attended, whose presence and assistance added greatly to the enjoyment of the evening.

Tackaberry’s role as master also involved organising staff and requests for leave and time off had to be submitted in advance to him. An examination of his journal also reveals how the master was required to deal with the removals of people from other workhouses to Dungannon, including in 1888 a man named Patrick Ward who was sent from Bathgate in Scotland. Likewise, Tackaberry was tasked with dealing with troublesome ‘inmates’ and those who had acquired drink were frequently removed.

There were annual visits by Poor Law Commission officials, while the master also oversaw the fever van which operated from the workhouse, visiting patients in rural districts and conveying them to the workhouse infirmary.

The diary also underlines how people gained admittance to the workhouse to spend their final days, and in many instances simply to die. These people were buried in the ‘Barley Field’ without friends or family in attendance.

The issue of absconding without permission from the workhouse is also highlighted in Tackaberry’s journal- where a number of men and women ‘absconded’ over the workhouse walls without consent to do so and with workhouse clothes. This issue took up a lot of the master’s time.

In September 1890 RJ Hamilton LGB visited the workhouse and viewed where the ‘the more harmless cases in the Female Lunatic Ward…should be removed to a ward by themselves in the main building. He wishes the Lunatic ward be kept entirely for the more violent and troublesome cases’. The same government inspector suggested in 1891 that a shed be erected in each of the Lunatic yards ‘in which patients could sit or exercise in hot showery weather’. Tackaberry himself was the victim of a violent attack the following month by an ‘inmate’ named Devlin and it took the assistance of the porter to rescue him. His journal sheds light on the often-violent nature of life within workhouse, which children were often witness to. On another occasion, Mrs Johnstone, the infirmary nurse, was badly injured when attacked by a female ‘inmate’. ‘Inmates’ who were violent in the workhouse were handed over to the magistrates and those such as Margaret Tennison were sentenced to prison in Armagh Gaol. Others were sent to Omagh Asylum

Tackaberry’s work as master extended beyond the walls of the workhouse on occasion, summoning parents, for example, who had deserted their children and who were thus then likely to be a charge on the workhouse.

In 1891 Tackaberry requested that he be allowed hire three charwomen to do the ‘necessary laundry and other work in the house , there being now women available in the house to do such work at present’. However, one week into their employment they were dismissed as ‘two active pauper women, who were willing to stop in the House for some time’ got the position instead.

Others entries in Tackaberry’s journal suggest that there were a number of rooms which also functioned in the workhouse including a ‘probationary ward’

The journal also provides additional information on deaths in the workhouse, including Thomas Gibson, a painter who died in the infirmary in 1892 following a fall working on the Belfast Bank in Dungannon.

The workhouse journal also points to the treatment of people who were deemed to be mentally unwell during this period, and perhaps it requires further study and of other workhouses to see just how unjust that was.

Here are some additional entries in the master’s journal:

14 June 1894

The master banks report that the stock of potatoes on hand will be consumed by the end of this week and he is of the opinion that it would not be advised when departures anymore this season as they have got to be almost unfit for use.

1 Nov 1894

The master begs to report that yesterday evening Mrs. Brown of Donaghmore gave the inmates are usual Halloween treat consisting of tea and current buns. After tea Mr Robert Brown of Aughareny attended and exhibited various scenes by magic lantern which he brought to a clause by the distribution of a liberal supply of nuts and fruit.

27 Dec 1894

The master begs to acquaint the board that serious damage was done to the various roofs of the workhouse by the Gale on Friday night lass but especially to the roof of the school building a considerable portion of which has been divested aboard slates and timber and on another portion of the building the roof has been associating and displays that it will have to be taken down before it can be repaired.

27 June 1895

The master begs to report that R. Agnew L.G.B. inspector visited and inspected the workhouse on Thursday and Friday last. he wishes to have the rooms lately occupied by the artillery handed over and put in order as soon as possible in order that the school children and lunatics may return to their own apartments.

he also begs to report that this morning the Free Gardeners Society sent through Mr. A Richardson, Market Square, two hampers of buns for distribution amongst the ‘inmates’ of the workhouse.

17 Oct 1895

The master begs to report there on Friday morning last he visited Newry workouts for the purpose of seeing the beds in use there states which are cast iron or nearly all one pattern and of the plainest description with wire woven mattress is in every case the wards in dormitory presented a nice clean healthy appearance being entirely free from the morning dust or chaff that is always to be found in wards and straw beds are used and you re the system has given entire satisfaction being cheaper and requiring less labour.

[The journal of Thomas Tackaberry remains in private possession and the Donaghmore Historical Society are grateful to reproduce accounts from it here]