Famine Workhouse and Graveyard

Follow the brass plaque trail to the Workhouse Attic Memorial.

A series of bronze plaques are embedded in the footpath from outside the entrance to St. George’s Heritage and Visitor Centre on to the western side of Main Street and up to Summerhill ( formerly Gallows Hill), and represent a wretched adult and child making their way in desperation to their last hope

The Workhouse Attic
The humble famine pot’s sole purpose was to feed the starving population in the packed workhouses and in temporary soup kitchens that had been set up around the country.

Board of Guardians

Elected Boards of Guardians were created by the poor law Amendment Act 1834 and were introduced to Ireland in 1838 when the country was divided into a number Poor Law Unions each of which had a board of Guardians and a Workhouse.

Initially, each Board was composed of Guardians who were elected by the owners and genuine occupiers of land. It was mostly landowners, businessman and substantial farmers who were elected. Guardians, at that time, were subject to annual elections

The members of the boards were responsible for caring for the poor in a Union area and they administered Workhouses in that defined area. They also supervised outdoor relief projects.

The Local government Act 1894, however, altered the system; property to vote and plural voting ended; women were able to become guardians. The term of office of a guardian was increased to three years, with all guardians elected.

The Carrick-on- Shannon Poor Law Union was formed on the 2nd September 1839, covered 15 electoral divisions within Counties Leitrim (7) and Roscommon (8) and elected 23 Guardians.

The workhouse in Carrick-on-Shannon, designed for 800 residence was built between 1840-42, on a seven-acre site at a fitted-out cost of £6200. It opened on 21st July 1842.

Workhouses were rather forbidding, cramped places and were managed by the Master; there usually was a cook, porter, schoolmaster/mistress and a part-time dispensary doctor.

Boards of guardians were abolished in the Republic of Ireland in 1925 and replaced by County Boards of Health.

John Neary (1838-1912)

John Neary, Poet of the Carrick Board, was an extraordinarily interesting and gifted man who left a national and indeed an international footprint.

He was born in Monaghan, Kiltrustan, under shadow of the Cregga slopes, on 25th January 1838 and he died on Monday 22nd July 1912 in Ardleckna, aged 74.

His life and interest were varied. His influence rippled out from Cragg Ardleckna all over a world at a time when communications were very difficult and dependent on the local newspaper and the rail and postal service. It was the world without the home or personal telephone, electric light or computer. He grew up in famine times, around Ardlekna, and carrow, Elphin and was familiar with the landscape of the known world then.

“I view thro’ fancy’s a flick’ ring beam, sweet boyhood’s golden days-

Those happy days, I spent upon Mahanagh’s green clad braes.”

He received no formal college education apart from training at Ordinance Surveying in the Phoenix Park, Dublin in the mid-1860’s. Obviously he was exposed to many disciplines and, of course, would have caught much from his father, John (1802-1888), a petty session clerk, mathematician, land surveyor, mapper and reputed to be a hedge-school master.

“My schoolboy days did quickly fly-

In fact, I now deplore

For had I been to college sent

I’s learn a great deal more

Read algebra and Euclid sweet,

Read hydrostatics too

And circles, tangents, co-sines, sines



The local commission is here on a mission

To pull down our local taxation,

By sending to “blouzes” half those old workhouses,

A drain on this over-taxed nation.

Each royal commission to mend our condition

Creates a novel sensation,

But limps, halts, and wabbles, and burst like soap bubbles,

John Bull shifts procrastination.

‘Tis gammon, he’s shammin, his pockets still crammin’,

While planning the ruin of a nation.

We’ll fight him, indite him; we’ll slight him and smite him

‘Till granted our home legislation.

We’ll combine – not intense – yes along the whole line,

Let each guard his loin in rotation-

No fizzle, we’ll guzzle a breach, loaders muzzles,

Till Ireland stands forth a free nation.

Context: at the Poor Law Reform Inquiry, held in the Courthouse in Carrick-on-Shannon, before Messrs Micks Murnaghan (Chairman) M.P. and Coey- Biggar, to hear evidence from the leading public gentlemen of the country on the Amalgamation question.

I find I cannot improve on the evidence given you especially by my learned friend Mr. Flynn. We are all aiming at the same thing-Amalgamation

For the good of the nation,

By reducing taxation,

And stopping emigration!

That is my explanation.

And that’s my peroration

Leitrim observer, 24 September 1904.


Christmas comes and with it plenty,

Tables groaning everywhere,

Nothing wanting, nothing stinty

Nothing but the best of fare.

Wait, I’ve spoken rather hastily –

Lapsus lingue to be sure –

In towns and country, crowded cities,

I forgot all ‘bout the poor.

Let the rich give to the needy,

Give it too without delay;

He gives twice who gives it freely,

Give it now for Christmas day.

Make them cheerful, joyful, happy

Happy as the flowers of May,

Refreshed by dew at close of even

Brightened by the orb of the day.

The sun shines clear, to brighten, cheer

This dark sphere from sea to sea,

Let the rich, dark cabins brighten

For the poor on Christmas day.

We guardians of the poor in Carrick

On feast days make inmates gay,

I’ll leave them now to join McGreevy

To cater for them on Christmas Day,

A master for fair play.

Context: the meeting of the Carrick Board of Guardians unanimously decided to grant the usual Christmas extras to the inmates of the house and also 1/=per week per head to all those on the out-door relief lists. The Chairman, at this stage of the proceedings, said he had a few lines to give them about Christmas fare for the inmates.

Leitrim Observer, 24 December 1904

The Old Clothes

Worn-out clothes the world knows

Are like old broken delph,

They got their day, therefore I say

They’re like my humble self.

Tattered and torn, old time worn,

Yet I’m jolly and free;

Say I’m a liar if the best buyer

Gives shillings three times three.

Now Mr McGreevy

Take this board hint from me.

You can buy more-can cram the store,

Not tore or wore before,

I’ll bet a dime

At sale next time

You’ll couth’ is ryme.

This short ryme ex-tem-pore;

Look sharp now, John Asthore.

A moral

A row begins, a neighbour lends

A sack to Jack or Ned.

A borrowed ass must have hard hoofs

I always heard it said.

The sack Comes back from Ned or Jack

With holes found here and there,

The ass comes lame, well that’s the same,

As clothes from wear and tear

Sell, gang, and get the gear.

Context: after an inspection of old worn-out clothes at the Workhouse, Carrick-on-Shannon, addressing the Board and the Master (Mr John McGreevy), the poet of the Board said:

Leitrim Observer, 13 May 1905.


Give lab’ring man their just reward,

And plant them on the soil,

With willing hands to till the lands,

Those hardy sons of toil.

Oh woman, charming to behold,

The law gives power, ‘tis true,

By this new scheme to have a claim

For land and cottage, too.

Bring joy and peace; at once efface

The landlord’s crushing away;

Bring in one stride, so long denied,

A glimpse of freedom’s ray.

Give cottages and plots of land-

Give acres- well, say three;

You’ll then allow each keep a cow-

Do, do, avic machree!

Cut up those cattle ranches round

From Breffni’s land to Kerry,

From Meath, Westmeath, Roscommon, Louth,

From Sligo round to Derry.

From Limerick, Clare and Galway, to

The County of Mayo,

From Donegal to wild Imaal,

From Cork to Atherflow.

From Monaghan, Antrim, Down, Tyrone,

To Dublin and Kildare,

From Carlow, Waterford, Tip’rary,

To Wexford and Kenmare.

From North to South, from East to West,

Armagh comes next, alna,

Kilkenny, Longford, King’s and Queen’s,

With Cavan and Fermanagh

Should lawyers speak, and eke and make

Nice pleadings- as they can-

Then try, act sly, just curl your eye,

To dodge their ev’ry plan.

Then John must come cede Home Rule to us,

In full-that’s our demand-

To live at home, no more to roam,

To any foreign land.

Now, Mr Chairman, here to-day,

Act well a noble part,

And leave behind your name enshrined

On Poet, Neary’s heart.

Context: the poet of the Board, Mr John Neary, recited the following verses to the local Government inspector, Edward L. O’Brien at an enquiry, in the boardroom of the Carrick Workhouse, into representations sent forward no 2 Council on behalf of applicants for labourers’ cottages and applotments. The inspector thanked Mr Neary for his good wishes.

Roscommon Herald, 18 January 1908


Dr Bradshaw resigned- from old age, bear in mind –

Skilled, kind, and refined he was surely;

But replaced he must be by a famous M.D.

By Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

When on leave – as they may – locum tenens should pay,

To “sons” the ratepayers it looks poorly,

But we’re ground, bound, and bossed, for such men to our cost,

As Rodden, Delany and Doorly.

Says Ben Fox’s motion – a sound lawyer’s notion,

His stipend we’ll clip most assure’ly,

Twenty pounds to defray, ‘bout a substitutes

For Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

The board ‘bove in Dublin, no more need be troublin’,

This Boardroom, nor say we’re unruly,

When we kicked, not like brutes- kicked to pay substitutes

For Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

Now propose, take a poll, let good humour control,

The heart and the soul of each purely,

The majority here gives quids eighty a year

To Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

(Loud applause)

Mr Neary- I anticipated there would be 4 candidates, and accordingly I had the following prepared and it showed a change on the other: –

Dr Bradshaw resigned – from old age, bear in mind-

Skilled, kind, and refined he was surely;

But replaced in his toil, will young Leyland from Boyle?

By Rodden, Delany or Doorly.

When on leave – as they may – locum tenens should pay,

To “sons” the ratepayers it looks poorly,

But we’re ground, bound, and banned, for such men as Leyland,

For Rodden, Delany, and Doorly.

Says Ben Fox’s motion – a sound lawyer’s notion,

His stipend we’ll clip most assure’ly,

Yes, a pay to command, substitutes for Leyland,

For Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

The Board / ‘bove in Dublin, no more need be troublin’,

This Boardroom, nor say we’re unruly,

On substitutes’’ trial, paid for Leyland from Boyle

On Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

Now propose, take a poll, let good humour control,

The heart and the soul of each purely,

And look down with a smile on young Leyland from Boyle,

On Rodden, Delany, or Doorly.

Context: on the choice of the Workhouse doctor: the result of the vote was Delaney 20, Rodden 16 and Doorly 15 (incl. J. Neary).

A visit to the Workhouse grounds

In joyous mood, on business bent,

I found my way to Strokestown dear;

I ever love that dear old town,

For kindly souls are ever there.

As I a D.C., chance to be

I to the boardroom gently strayed;

That I might scan, and wiser grow

Within that tricky, unpaid trade.

I, Cicero, but once did hear-

Blind chance that joy did once afford-

I must admit his oratory;

Was nought to that of Strokestown Board.

I, in the Clerk, a scholar found,

I kenned that same, just like his looks;

I firmly think he is at home,

With head among his heavy books.

If he were asked to tot a bill,

Well, in a twinkling, then you’d see-

‘Thout jest or fun, in one degree-

The figures plain as A B C.

The Acting, too, his business knows,

For talent sweet, experience true;

Have made his quick, unerring mind

With lightening speed, each subject view.

The Chairman, too, with sage-like views,

Can train each youthful, raw D.C.

The Vice-Chair, too, can proudly boast,

It harbours one with language free.

With skill I viewed the guardians shrewd,

For wit and sense, and factors there;

The ratepayers all can snugly sleep,

No cause to think the taxes dear.

The Master musters business well,

He shares each inmate fond regard;

A type is he of honesty,

So confidence is his reward.

The R.Os, too, are humane men,

In alms they earnestly believe,

And there with judgement, they can plead,

The suffering needy to relieve.

The Porter amiable and kind,

He pleases one- he pleases all;

His equal, oh! You could not find

From Mexico to old Bengal.

And there, I Pressmen, wise have seen,

With wings upon their pencils sharp;

They take all down- a laugh or shout,

Or if D.C’s Carp.

May health and life be spared them long,

To work full well, with true design,

And now perhaps your conscience would,

Forgive this tardy Muse of mine.

Context: John Neary, paid his annual visit to the Workhouse grounds, and invited, as usual, to the boardroom, he handed in the following lines. Leitrim Observer, 14 November 1908

The Famine Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance

The Famine Graveyard

From St. George’s Heritage and Visitor Centre, follow the brass plaques trail to the Workhouse Attic Memorial.

Introductory displays recall the role of the workhouse during the famine era. Famine victims were recorded as living in these whitewashed quarters. A famine graveyard in the grounds is another legacy of this poignant chapter of Irish history.

The adjacent reading room provides an opportunity to look through reproduced copies of the Carrick Workhouse Board of Guardians Minute Books (1843 – 1850) and to browse other evocative items of interest.

Access to the workhouse attic and reading room is by guided tour and can be arranged with the St. George’s Heritage and Visitor Centre staff.