Working of a workhouse

The heading on this week's title was above a disturbing report on Naas Workhouse in the 11th November 1905 edition of this newspaper.

The sub-title ‘Startling Discolours at Naas Board of Guardians’ was an apt summary of conditions in the institution as reported by Mr. D.J. Purcell, Clerk of the Union. He revealed that the Master’s register of occupants was inaccurate, sometimes listing persons who were not resident, or not listing persons who were.

One man, Loughlin Delaney, was recorded as being admitted in June 1904 and remaining there until he died over a year later, but his name had been omitted from the books months before his demise.

Another man, an inmate since 1900, was not on the register for over six months. A woman who had been discharged was left on the register, while a man who was resident was shown as discharged; others were registered twice. The Master told of an instance where a woman inmate had visitors, and when they left she walked out the gate with them, without the porter seeing her. The Guardians recommended that the situation should be reported to the Local Government Board.

The Guardian’s were also concerned about the problems of Mrs Marian F. Gallagher from Monasterevan. She outlined her piteous tale at Rathfarnham Court when she sought a maintenance order against her husband of ten years.

Claiming that ‘She had brought him a fortune of £1,200 from which they purchased the house in Rathfarnham.’ But he had begun to ill treat her, “he used to handle of a whip to prevent her going to Mass, and he locked her in and made a prisoner of her.”

He went away frequently for several days, so she left him and went into lodgings. The magistrate made an order for the payment by Gallagher of 15/-weekly to his wife. As she was a resident in Naas Workhouse, the Court ordered the solicitors Brown and McCann should take legal action against Gallagher for the maintenance of his wife in the Workhouse.

Stephen J. Brown himself was reported in the paper when he made the practical suggestion at the urban Council that a fruit and vegetable market should be established in Naas.

“We are also very pleased to see that a system of awarding prizes, by surprise visits of an inspector, for the best butter exhibited at the market is to be revived.”

The report criticised Councils in general, “as lacking an initiative, and that Naas Council was setting a headline to its contemporary bodies in the Province.”

Athy Urban Council was not having such a constructive time. Derogatory remarks had been made at a meeting concerning the yard and slaughterhouse of a butcher, Patrick Whelan. However, he produced a letter from the Medical Officer of Health saying that he had inspected the house and yard and that “they were in a perfectly clean and sanitary condition.”

And there was trouble with the new water scheme. An engineer resident in London had been appointed to the works, but another engineer, Frank Aylward, claimed that he had already been given the contract and that he had relinquished his practice in Dublin and moved to live nearer to Athy.

Then he heard a rumour that one influential member of the Council did not want him, and had proposed that the work be abandoned for the present. He lodged a claim for £245 which would have been the amount of his fees if the work had been initiated. It was decided to adjourn consideration of the matter, and to refer it to the Council’s solicitor.

Another problem aggravating a Council member was the abuse of Curraclone cemetery. He described it as “a regular common, and that poachers were guilty of desecrating the resting place of the dead by tearing up the earth and ferreting in the place for rabbits.” It was decided to appoint a caretaker to prevent such desecrating in the future.

A more agreeable story was that of a sportsman from the town who had a novel experience when out shooting. He fired at a covey of partridges and a bird dropped. When he went to pick up the bird he found it standing and apparently uninjured.

He set his dog on the bird several times, and then he threw the partridge in the air to encouraged the dog to fetch it. But “to his astonishment and utter disgust the bird flew away, and left its late owner to return home with an empty bag. Those interested in natural history could perhaps explain the phenomenon.”

Courtesy of the Con Costello of the Leinster Leader
November 2005