Ancestry UK

Castletownbere, Co. Cork

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Castletownbere was one of the new Poor Law Unions created in Ireland between 1848 and 1850. Castletownbere Union formally came into existence on 29th September 1849. It was formed the western part of the Bantry union and occupied an area of 115 square miles. The population falling within the Castletownbere Union at the 1901 census was 11,178. In 1902, it comprised the following electoral divisions:

Co. Cork: Adrigole, Bear, Coulagh, Curryglass, Kilcatherine, Killaconenagh, Kilnamanagh.

The Guardians met each week on Thursday at noon.

The new Castletownbere Union workhouse was erected in about 1852 on a nine-acre site half a mile to the east of Castletown Bearhaven. Designed by the Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson, the building accommodated 600 inmates. Its construction cost £6,300 plus £1,240 for fittings etc. The site location and layout are shown on the 1901 map below.

Castletownbere workhouse site, 1901.

The layout had some significant differences to Wilkinson's earlier designs and was similar to that erected for the Dingle union erected at about the same time. At the south of the site was a low entrance block which probably contained the porter's lodge, school rooms, probationary wards, and offices.

The main building comprised two closely placed parallel ranges, joined by a short central link. The larger front block was three storeys high, probably with the Master's quarters at the centre, able-bodied males and females to each side, and the elderly and infirm at the far ends. The Irish Poor Law Commissioners published Wilkinson's design for the main block in 1848.

Castletownbere main block design, 1848
© Peter Higginbotham.

The rear part of the main building comprised a single-storey collection of utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse, and possibly stables. The infirmary, fever hospital and mortuary were located at the far north of the site.

In December 1895, at a meeting of the Board of Guardians, the local workhouse infirmary nurse resigned and the Board chairman, Mr Harrington proposed that the Sisters of Mercy be invited to take charge of the hospital. In July 1896, two of the Sisters, Sr Xavier O'Connell and Sr Margaret Griffin took possession of a new convent which was built in the old workhouse and it was named St Joseph's. Their nursing duties began on the 2nd of July, 1896.

After its closure in the early 1920s, the workhouse appears to have been left derelict. Eventually the site was converted for use as housing with stone from the workhouse being used in construction of the new buildings.

Castletownbere former workhouse site from the south, 2002
© Peter Higginbotham.


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


  • None.

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