Shirley's 2013 Trip travel blog

The Workhouse Attic which housed up to 100 people

I’m feeling much better. I wasn’t sick, just felt lousy but I heard on the News that Roscommon County was having trouble with an outbreak of cryptosporidium in the water supply. I stopped drinking the water just in case & whatever the problem was, I’m back to normal.

It’s rainy today but not as cold – still a good day to stay close to home. There were things worth seeing in the area but I spent the morning catching up on some reading then decided to spend the rest of the day in Carrick. The town isn’t very big but it’s got a system of one-way streets which make it very difficult to get to where you want to go.

I found out that to see the workhouse I needed to go to the Heritage Centre at St George’s Church of Ireland which is quite conveniently right next to St Mary’s Catholic Church, on top of the hill. I gave up on the one-way streets which were taking me in circles, found a parking spot & walked.

When I found the Heritage Centre there was that famous sign on the door “Back in 30 minutes”. I wanted to see the main street, which isn’t very long & found a café to have lunch (a hamburger – not very Irish but the best I could find) then the 30 minutes was up so I went back to St George’s.

The “Back in 30 minutes” sign was still on the door but this time there were 2 ladies inside & the door was open. Maybe the sign is permanent. Anyhow the ladies were very helpful & put on a 20 minute film about County Leitrim (Carrick-on-Shannon straddles the Shannon River & one side, to the north, is County Leitrim & the other side is County Roscommon).

Some interesting statistics about County Leitrim – in 1841, the population was 155,000. In 1851 after the famine & mass emigration it had dropped to 112,000. Today, after almost continuous emigration, it’s 25,000. In fact I read that last year was the first time the population increased for 150 years. To me it was a stark demonstration of how over-populated Ireland became in the mid 1800’s.

The lady from the Heritage Centre met me at the Workhouse, which was driving distance & let me in to the attic part which is open to the public (if you know how to get there). The English Poor Law system was introduced in Ireland in 1838 & Carrick-on-Shannon workhouse opened in 1842. Life in the workhouse was deliberately harsh to discourage people from becoming dependent on state-funded charity so it was a place of last resort for the completely destitute & as a result was less than ½ full for the first few years of its existence. However when the Famine hit in 1845 it was overwhelmed. Unable to cope it became notorious for terrible conditions & high mortality rates.

The building was plain & functional with whitewashed interior walls & to save money on beds, the inmates slept on straw on platforms either side of the dormitories. There were 3 floors & families were separated on entry – men on the 1st floor, women on the 2nd & children in the attic. The parents only saw their children on Sundays. Living conditions were primitive & inmates wore distinctive clothing.

They’ve deliberately kept the attic as stark as it was during the Famine & play an evocative video of images & song which captures the total sadness & sense of desolation of the place. My guide was telling me that there’s a group of people who are going to spend the night here tomorrow. They’re going to sleep on the straw although they’re being given a blanket & told to wear warm clothing. But they’re going to live the workhouse life for 24 hours – eat the food that was provided, do the tasks & cope with the sanitary arrangements. That bit put me off.

After that, I looked around the town a bit more then went home & lit a fire. I caught up on this story a bit because I’ve been lazy for the last few days then watched TV although it’s very difficult to find something decent to watch. I bought a DVD a couple of days ago which has 3 movies on it & really enjoyed Space Cowboys which is surprising because usually I don’t like Clint Eastwood.

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