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Poor Law Unions

Some thirty years after the "Act of Union", 1800, Westminster instituted a series of reforms in the governance of Ireland. A range of government-sponsored inquiries were undertaken in the 1830s into various aspects of Irish life, including that of Municipal Corporations. One key strategy was to take responsibility for local administration out of the hands of local gentry and the church, to establish Boards of Commissioners to run such services. Most significant in this context were the reorganisation of the Board of Works in 1831 and the establishment of the Commissioners for National Education in the same year. On the 25 September 1833 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the condition of the poor in Ireland. This extensive report, generally known as the "Poor Enquiry", with a large number of detailed appendices, setting out the evidence that had been collected, was presented to parliament and debated in May 1836. The report contains a great deal of local data for all parts of Ireland and is probably the single most important historical source for social conditions in Ireland before the Famines. Then by the 31st July 1838, as a response to widespread poverty, an Act 'for the more effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland' was passed, closely modelled on the England and Wales system, and with the same Poor Law Commission governing its operation. These Unions were to be formed based on electoral divisions which in turn were composed of Townland. One third of each local Board was to comprise unelected members, most commonly local Justices of the Peace. Each poor law union area had a workhouse and was supervised by a Board of Guardians. The Poor Law Commission (and later the Local Government Board) in Dublin was the central authority for the Poor Law Unions. ‘Poor Rates’ were collected in each Union to fund relief for the local destitute poor.

By the end of 1841, one hundred and thirty Irish Unions had been formed. A decade later, between 1848 and 1850 in the wake of the Great Famines of 1843 & 1852, a further thirty-three Unions were created, predominantly in the west of Ireland. This was achieved by subdividing some of the existing Unions, together with some additional boundary adjustments where necessary. Again these buildings followed Wilkinson's typical layout.

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