Ancestry UK

Kenmare, Co. Kerry

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Kenmare Poor Law Union was formally declared on the 21st September 1840 and covered an area of 423 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 15 in number, representing its 7 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Co. Kerry: Ballybog (2), Bowrdoneen (2), Bunawn (2), Kenmare (3), Kilgarvan (2), Tuosist (2), Templenoe (2).

The Board also included 5 ex-officio Guardians, making a total of 20. The Guardians met on alternate Saturdays.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 29,152 with divisions ranging in size from Bunawn (population 2,023) to Tuosist (6,208), Bowrdoneen (4,986) and Kenmare itself (4,963).

The new Kenmare Union workhouse was erected on a nine-acre site half a mile to the north of Kenmare. 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 £6,550 plus £1,380 for fittings etc.

The building and operation of a workhouse had to be financed by the ratepayers of each union and in many places was seen as an intolerable imposition from England and its officials. It took until 15th June 1844 to raise the first poor rate in Kenmare, with the workhouse being declared fit for the reception of paupers on 19th August, and not receiving its first admissions until 25th October 1845.

The site location and layout of the Kenmare workhouse are shown on the 1902 map below.

Kenmare workhouse site, 1902.

The buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the east contained a porter's room and waiting room at the centre with the Guardians' board room on the first floor above.

The main accommodation block had the Master's quarters at the centre, with male and female wings to each side. At the rear, a range of single-storey utility rooms such as bakehouse and washhouse connected through to the infirmary and idiots' wards via a central spine containing the chapel and dining-hall.

During the famine in the mid-1840s a fever hospital to accommodate 40 patients was erected at the east of the workhouse.

The former workhouse site is now occupied by Kenmare Community Hospital which replaced the old workhouse buildings in 1936. What appears to be the original fever hospital building survives as private residence.

Kenmare former fever hospital from the south-east, 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.

  • Kerry County Library, Moyderwell, Tralee, Co. Kerry. Holdings include Board of Guardians' minutes (1840-1921).


  • None.


  • None.

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