Kinsale Workhouse, County Cork

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019
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Today Kinsale is regarded as one of the most picturesque and oldest towns in Ireland. it is also internationally renowned for the number and quality of its restaurants. It’s likely that few of the many visitors to the town this week will pay much attention to the hospital, or notice the adjoining graveyard, as they look forward to the delights that Kinsale has to offer. The hospital used to be the workhouse for the Kinsale Union, and area comprising Kinsale and surrounding parishes. The graveyard is where inmates of that workhouse were interred.

Kinsale Union Workhouse Graveyard

Image Above: Kinsale Union Workhouse Graveyard entrance

As we approach St Patricks day, perhaps spare a thought for John Riordan aged 9, who died in Kinsale workhouse 172 years ago this week. So did Timothy Carthy aged 4, Joan Murphy aged 8, Timothy Sullivan aged 1 and John Keeffe aged 2. These are just some of the 40 people to die in the workhouse in a little over one week.

There were many weeks like this. When the second season of potato blight ravaged this area in 1846/1847 these poor unfortunates had no chance. The scale of the Great Famine was cataclysmic, with the poor suffering the most as an entire social class – cottiers, beggars, vagrants and labourers – was destroyed.

 Kinsale Union Workhouse

Image Above: Kinsale Union Workhouse Graveyard monument

The potato was the staple diet for over half the population and the appearance of potato blight phytophthora infestans, in the second week of September 1845 signalled the greatest calamity ever tobeset Ireland.

When the second crop failure occurred, it soon became clear that British Government who ruled Ireland at this time, were unwilling to take the necessary measures to avoid disaster. The workhouse became the last refuge of a desperate population. Many would succumb to a variety of rampant diseases. Many more would die wretched deaths outside of the workhouse.

Kinsale Workhouse

Image Above: Death Register of Kinsale Union Workhouse 1847

An exhibition telling the story of the Irish Potato Famine will take place in the Stephens Green Centre in Dublin between April 15th and October 15th. Some original Famine artefacts will be included in the exhibition. You can find out more at www.theirishpotatofamine.com If you live outside of Ireland and are unable to visit this exhibition, a DVD of the exhibition is also available to purchase on that website.