Ancestry UK

Abbeyleix, Co. Leix (Laois, Queen's County)

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Abbeyleix Poor Law Union was formally declared on the 3rd December 1839 and covered an area of 177 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 24 in number, representing its 11 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Queen's County: Aghaboe (2), Abbeyleix (4), Aughmacart (2), Ballinakill (2), Ballyroan, Castletown (2), Coolkerry (2), Killermogh, The Raheen (4), Timahoe.
Queen's County and Kilkenny: Durrow (2).

The Board also included 8 ex-officio Guardians, making a total of 32. The Guardians met each week on Tuesday.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 35,597 with divisions ranging in size from East Killermogh (population 1,398) to Ballinakill (5,926).

The new Abbeyleix Union workhouse was erected in 1841-2 on a six-acre site a quarter of a mile to the east of Abbeyleix, at the south side of the Ballinakill Road. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building was based on one of his standard plans to accommodate 500 inmates. Its construction cost £5,850 plus £1,020 for fittings etc. The workhouse was declared fit for the reception of paupers on 24th March 1842, and received its first admissions on 6th June. The workhouse location and layout are shown on the 1909 map below.

Abbeyleix workhouse site, 1909

The main buildings followed the typical layout with an entrance and administrative block at the north containing a porter's room and waiting room with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above. To its rear, the main accommodation block had the Master's quarters at the centre, with male and female wings to each side, including boys' and girls' school-rooms. A central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall linked to the infirmary. A mortuary stood at the south of the workhouse, beyond which lay a burial ground.

During the famine in the mid-1840s, a house was hired to accommodate an additional 100 fever patients. A fever hospital was later erected at the west of the workhouse.

The workhouse buildings no longer exist and Abbeyleix District Hospital now stands on the site.

Abbeyleix former workhouse site from the north-west, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.



Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Laois County Library, County Hall, James Fintan Lalor Avenue, Portlaoise, Co. Laois. (Will be moving to Kea-Lew Business Park, Portlaoise R32 EHP9.)


  • The Workhouses of Ireland by John O'Connor (Anvil Books, 1995)


  • None.

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