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Rathdrum Board of Guardians Minutes 1839-1921

Extract from first meeting of the Rathdrum Board of Guardians at the Flannel Hall Rathdrum, 5th November 1839

The minute books of the Poor Law Unions are a rich and informative resource for Irish social history. They provide detailed information on the day to day work of the Boards of Guardians who were charged with administering the workhouse and the relief of the poor in their Union

The Irish Poor Law system was the quintessential product of the Victorian enthusiasm for administrative reform in Ireland. Over the nineteenth century it changed from being a safety net for the poor, to being a more complex early public health service. 

Poor Law Unions were established under the Poor Law (Ireland) Act 1838 as a response to widespread poverty in Ireland. The Board of Guardians was the governing body of the poor law union and the workhouse it contained.  In County Wicklow the Poor Law Unions were Rathdrum, Baltinglass and Shillelagh, and the county was also served by the bordering Unions of Naas and Rathdown.  The functions of the Board of Guardians were gradually extended to include public health, sanitation and rural housing, but the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 saw most of its public health functions taken over by the newly created Wicklow County Council. The board continued to administer the workhouse and its hospital, and to supervise some forms of outdoor relief, until its abolition in 1923.

The Records: The minute books of the Poor Law Unions are a rich and informative resource for Irish social history.  They provide detailed information on the day to day work of the Boards of Guardians who were charged with administering the workhouse and the relief of the poor in their Union: Workhouse Master’s report, numbers admitted, clothing for the inmates, discipline inflicted, staff and provisions. These books are the largest series of poor law archives, reflecting not only the functions of the board, but also resolutions on internal and poor law matters and on wider political or social issues. 

This project is funded by Creative Ireland.

Note: The AI search-tool Transkribus has been applied to these records, so it is now possible to search both hand-written and typed documents by using the 'cntrl/f' keys.