Sligo Workhouse, Ballytivnan

Built in 1841 in Ballytivnan at the cost of £12,842, the original occupancy was up to 1,200 people.

These buildings were mostly for the unwanted, the destitute and the starving, they were for those who had no other choice and/or their last resort. They were cramped and filthy, the conditions were just appalling.

In 1846, during the famine the workhouse was overflowing and hundreds were turned away each week due to overcrowding, it was during this time that deaths were at its highest due to the ideal conditions for Typhus and Typhoid, and sooner or later dysentery and fever would break out.

Over 300,000 people would die in workhouses nationwide, this included the staff.
Families were separated, men and women lived in segregated areas and children in another.

There was two meals a day, Oatmeal, potatoes and buttermilk, which was at most times either infested or overcooked. Workhouses could barely afford to feed those who took refuge within its walls, and its financial conditions which always been bad were disastrous during the famine.

Money was allocated to the workhouses by Poor Law Unions which was managed by the Board of Guardians, which during the famine refused to pay for coffins, as they cost £6 each.

They said “More advisable to feed the living, than provide coffins for the dead”.
The dead would be placed into coffins which had removable bottoms which be opened to dump the dead into pits at the rear of the hospital, the site of the now famine graveyard.

A lot of people who entered the workhouse were those who had given up and entered it just so that they would receive some sort of burial rather than die along the roadside.
Theft in workhouses was common, and unfortunately the weakest were the ones stolen from which in this case was children, leading to believe this is why the death rate of children was so high in workhouses.

Sympathy in workhouses was non existent as everyone had a tragic tale of how they came to be in the walls.

In 1849 there was 3,140 inmates and auxiliaries (twice the occupancy of the building) this mainly consisted of the poor, pregnant women, the elderly or homeless.

In 1899 the Sisters of Mercy took up residence in a building built at the rear of the building to accommodate them, and with them they brought a new state of hygiene to the workhouses.

In the 1911 census there was 1,285 people in residence.

In the 1920’s it was renamed the ‘County Home’.

In 1969 the building was demolished making way for the St. John’s Hospital we see today on its site.

Contributor: Adrian O’Neill


Sligo and its Surroundings (by Tadhg Kilgannon)

The Campbell Collection

The Kilgannon Collection

Ordnance Survey of Ireland