Lifestyle – The impressive and austere Portumna Workhouse opened its doors in 1852 and accommodated thousands of poverty-stricken and starving people until it closed in the early 20th Century. It now houses the Irish Workhouse Centre, a visitor attraction that tells the story of these institutions and of those who used their services. This community-based project is now entering a new phase with the opening of a museum which will allow a glimpse into the daily life of this bleak place and others like it. Donations of items relating to Portumna and other workhouses would be most welcome, as the Centre’s volunteers explain to JUDY MURPHY.
Three plain, unremarkable buttons, grey in colour – it’s difficult to imagine anybody getting too excited over them. But as David Broderick turns them over in his hand in the newly-created exhibition room at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna and explains their significance, it all makes sense. These items offer a glimpse into the daily life of Victorian-era workhouses like this one which opened in 1852 and provided thousands of destitute people with an alternative to starvation – albeit a harsh one – until it closed in the early 20th Century.
The buttons, most likely from the uniforms of female inmates, were found in different areas of this large complex by David and Christy Cunniffe, both historians who volunteer with the Irish Workhouse Centre – a community enterprise set up in 2012. They and fellow volunteer, genealogist Clare Doyle, supported by the Centre’s manager, Dónal Burke, are now creating a dedicated museum in the Centre, so they can give a picture of life in the 163 workhouses that operated in Ireland from the 1840s to the early 20th Century. The one in Portumna was designed to cater for 600 inmates, men, women and children, on a site of just over eight acres.
The group has made a good start on finding items already – these include enormous Famine soup pots, medicine bottles and a cast-iron infirmary heater.
But this is a work in progress, so they’re appealing to people who might have artefacts relating to Irish workhouses. They’d love if people would donate or loan those items to the new museum.
It’s the latest initiative by the Workhouse Centre as part of its remit “to tell the story of the workhouse and aspects of the famine”, Christy explains.
In normal times, Centre staff and volunteers offer guided tours which have gained it top ratings on Trip Advisor. But lockdown has stopped those for now. So, all involved are focusing on future developments – including the museum. It’s a project “that must be done with respect for the place and the people who were here”, Christy says.
David Broderick, who has written a book about Henry Ogle, a Master of Portumna Workhouse who absconded under strange circumstances in 1865, nods. “It’s to look after people’s memory and tell their story.”
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First pub in County Galway to be convicted over Covid breach
A County Galway publican has become the first in the county convicted of breaching Covid-19 regulations after 70 customers were found on his premises during the partial lockdown last year.
Tuam Court was told that when the Gardaí entered the premises at Tierney’s of Foxhall, there was very little social distancing – and no food being served, as was the requirement at the time.
Proprietor Tom Kelly was prosecuted for the breach of Covid-19 regulations which carries a maximum penalty of €5,000.
After Judge James Faughnan was informed that it was an extremely large premises in rural North Galway, he remarked that when so many people are allowed into a pub, no matter how big, it is extremely difficult to control them.
Prosecuting Sergeant Christy Browne explained that several months ago there had been opposition for the renewal of the publican’s licence on the grounds of alleged breaches of Covid regulations.
He said that, on August 30 last, there were 70 people on the premises, at a time during the pandemic when there was the requirement to purchase a €9 meal before being served a drink.
Sergeant Browne explained that when the premises was inspected, there was no social distancing, there was no food being served and no evidence of food receipts.
Defending solicitor Gearoid Geraghty said that his client ran a huge premises that can accommodate 227 customers and added that his customers were spread among three separate sections of the premises.
While there have been objections to the renewal of publicans’ licences by the Gardaí for breaches of the guidelines, this was the first criminal prosecution that has taken place in County Galway.
Tom Kelly with an address of Corohan, Tuam, the proprietor of Tierney’s of Foxhall, was charged with breaching a regulation to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19. It relates to an alleged breach that occurred on August 30 last year.
The same defendant had been the subject of an objection to his licence by Garda Inspector John Dunne a number of months ago. He was ordered to pay €500 towards a charity at the time.
The Inspector had opposed the renewal of the licences for what he said were breaches of Covid guidelines during the course of inspections carried out when the situation was relaxed during the course of 2020.
Headford’s plans for public park and gardens
Plans to create a new public park and gardens in the heart of Headford were unveiled this week.
Headford Community Garden and Headford Men’s Shed have submitted a proposal to the Headford Development Association to create the park on the lands adjacent to their gardens in Balrickard.
A rewilded, multi-habitat park would transform outdoor living in the town and provide a much-needed greenspace that would be accessible to all – offering a relaxing setting for all ages and abilities.
The promoters also hope that the project would act as a model for other Irish towns, with Headford becoming a leading example of how parkland and greenspace can help to revitalise rural settlements.
“This proposal for a park and gardens in Headford will create a quiet natural space in the centre of town for all to access and enjoy. It is a project that will benefit the people and the businesses of the town and surrounding areas for generations to come,” said Aengus McMahon, spokesperson for Headford Park and Gardens.
Within the park the emphasis will be on biodiversity; the planting of native trees, introduction of biodiverse meadow spaces with mown paths, walking trails, picnic and play areas.
The existing gardens and new parkland will serve as an outdoor classroom for use by local schools.
There are existing plans for Presentation College Headord’s Seomra Seoda to utilise Headford Community Garden for outdoor classes. The park will be fully inclusive and accessible to all.
The space will also include an outdoor cultural space for concerts, theatre shows and special events.
“During the Covid lockdowns, it was our walks in the rural countryside and wild landscapes that provided therapy for both mind and body,” said Brendan Smith of the Galway National Park City initiative.
“So, in a post Covid world it is important that, for the health of human society and of the planet, we integrate green and blue spaces into the fabric of our cities, towns and villages,” he added.
Recently Galway’s County Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to fund a feasibility study to examine the development potential of a cycleway and greenway from the Galway city to Headford. The park would be the perfect landing site for a future greenway.
Groups already sharing the existing garden area include Tidy Towns, environmental groups, Scouts, Headford Lace Project, Yarn Bombers, Meals on Wheels and Ability West.
Split level home on large site in Drum
This is a superb detached family home on a large site of 1.4 acres located around 5km from Galway City.
Built in 1999, the property at Drum East near Bushypark extends to 3,000 sq ft and has around 0.75 of an acre of easily maintained gardens.
The residence is deceptive from the front as it appears to be single storey, but is in fact split level and is over three floors.
On the ground and first floors are the sitting room, kitchen, dining room, utility room, four bedrooms (two of which are en suite), main bathroom and guest toilet.
On the lower ground floor is a large open plan room suitable for a variety of uses and two further separate rooms. All rooms are large, bright and spacious.
The care and thought that has gone into this home is evident with the quality of fittings, such as solid timber floors, tiling, kitchen fittings and bathrooms have recently been refitted with new showers, tiling and suites.
The thermal efficiencies have been improved with extensive retro fitting of insulation, including pumping walls and attic insulation.
Externally, the gardens have been planned and have matured well with natural stone wall boundary to front, mature trees and shrub beds on side and rear boundary, extensive lawn, tarmacadam drive to the front, side and rear. In addition, there is a rear field of approximately 0.65 acres.
Drum is a popular location to the west of Galway City approximately 5km from the city centre; Boleybeg Primary School is 1km and the Salthill Devon pitches are nearby.
It offers space, privacy, scope and all the benefits of country living yet on the doorstep of the city.
■ The asking price is €575,000. The BER Rating is C1. For further information or to arrange a viewing, contact Sherry FitzGerald on 091 569123.