Ancestry UK

Stranorlar, Co. Donegal

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Stranorlar Poor Law Union was formed on the 10th December 1840 and covered an area of 178 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 18 in number, representing its 10 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one):

Co. Donegal: Altnapaste, Cloghan (2), Convoy (3), Dooish, Gleneely (2), Goland, Killygordon (2), Knock, Lettermore, Stranorlar (4).
Later addition: Meencargagh.

The Board also included 6 ex officio Guardians, making a total of 24. The Guardians met each week on Monday.

The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 23,459 with divisions ranging in size from Goland (population 768) to Stranorlar itself (4,803).

The new workhouse, built in 1845, was designed by George Wilkinson. It occupied a seven-acre site above the Lifford Road, about a mile to the east of Stranorlar. It could accommodate up to 400 inmates. The cost of the building was £7,300 plus £1,330 for fixtures and fittings etc. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 16th March 1844, and admitted its first inmates a few weeks later on 3rd May.

The site location and layout are shown on the 1907 OS map below.

Stranorlar workhouse site, 1907.

The buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout. An entrance and administrative block at the south 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 60-bed fever hospital was erected at the north of the workhouse, beyond which lay the workhouse burial ground.

From 1899, nursing staff at the institution were provided by the Sisters of Mercy.

At the 1901 census, the population of the Union was 13,707 with 11 officials and 61 inmates in the workhouse.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, the workhouse site was redesignated as the Stranorlar County Home and used to accommodate the elderly and infirm, those with physical and mental disabilities, and single mothers and their children. The home was closed in 1971 and the buildings subsequently demolished. In 1973, the new St Joseph's Home (now St Joseph's Community Hospital) was opened on the site.

St Joseph's Hospital site from the south-west, 2003
© 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.

  • Donegal County Record Office, Three Rivers Centre, Lifford, County Donegal. Holdings include: Guardians' Minutes (1845-1921); Rough Minutes (1861-1901); Letter Book (1921); Labourers Minute Book (1895-1899); Union Medical Material (1852-1899); Killygordan Dispensary Minute Book (1852-1898); Stranorlar Dispensary Minute Book (1852-1899); etc.


  • The Workhouses of Ulster by Michael H Gould, 1983.
  • Workhouses of the North West Edited by Jack Johnston (1996, WEA)
  • The Workhouses of Ireland by John O'Connor (Anvil Books, 1995)


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