Irish Poor Laws

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This former workhouse is located in Dunfanaghy, Donegal.

The Irish Poor Laws were a series of Acts of Parliament intended to address social instability due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland. While some legislation had been introduced by the pre-Union Parliament of Ireland prior to the Act of Union, the most radical and comprehensive attempt was the Irish act of 1838, closely modelled on the English Poor Law of 1834. In England, this replaced Elizabethan era legislation which had no equivalent in Ireland.


In 1703, the Irish Parliament passed an act for "Providing the erection of a workhouse and for the maintenance and apprenticing out of foundling children". By 1771, there were 'Houses of Industry in every county and by 1833, the total cost was £32,967.[1]


The workhouse system was established by the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838. Until then, the use of 'Houses of industry' was on a much smaller scale than in England and Wales.[2]

The Irish Poor Law was enacted by the British Government in 1837 and gave powers to each Board of Guardians to collect a Poor rate as a form of taxation to support the local parish Union Workhouse.[2]

Royal Commission[edit]


Further information: Great Famine (Ireland)

During the Great Famine, workhouses became so overwhelmed that large numbers of paupers were assisted to emigrate. This had the effect of permitting more to enter the workhouse in the hope of escaping starvation and disease. In response, Guardian-assisted emigration was reserved only for those who had received indoor relief for over two years.[3]

After Irish Independence[edit]

Following independence, Boards of Guardians were replaced by County Boards of Health or County Boards of Public Assistance.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ George O'Brien, the Economic History of Ireland From the Union to the Famine, 1921, p.168
  2. ^ a b c Poor Law Unions in Ireland
  3. ^ The Irish poor law Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Further reading[edit]

Contemporary accounts[edit]

19th century[edit]

20th century[edit]

External links[edit]

External images
*Map of Poor Law Unions 1842–49