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.”
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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O’Donnellan & Joyce celebrate 40 years in business
When O’Donnellan & Joyce started in 1982, little did they know that one day they would be celebrating 40 years in business. Celebrating the big 4-0 in September meant this has been a landmark year for the company.
In the beginning back in 1982 they worked mostly in lettings and private treaty sales. Their auctions began in 1984 on the Aran Islands with the sale of land and a pub.
Colm commented: “It is definitely one of my highlights over the past 40 years, everyone needs to start somewhere and it was a fabulous start.” The auction was held outside in the summer and is a far cry from the auctions held today.
These days O’Donnellan & Joyce ‘Wild Atlantic’ property auctions which take place in Galway’s Harbour Hotel, are renowned throughout Ireland, with properties for sale from Galway up to Donegal and all along the western seaboard right down as far as Kerry and over in Dublin.
Modern technology now means their auctions can reach a global audience with their live stream online bidding platform attracting international bidders as well as national and local bidders who can now bid and view the auction from the comfort of their own homes leading to a dramatic expansion of audiences across the world in recent years.
Combining modern technology with nationally renowned auctioneer Colm O’Donnellan taking bids on the day, brings tremendous excitement to the live auction room.
Not only do O’Donnellan & Joyce have their successful auction department, they also have a substantial new homes division, their private treaty department which sells on average over 350 homes a year, rentals division and their rapidly growing commercial & valuations department.
Like most businesses, it is the people who make the business. O’Donnellan & Joyce has 16 full time staff with many of them there for over 20 years.
Meeting hears of “devastating impact” of Huntington’s on families
The Minister of State for Disability at the Department of Health has acknowledged the devastating impact which Huntington’s Disease has on the entire family.
Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte met with families affected by the disease at the Huntington’s Disease Association of Ireland annual meeting in Ballinasloe.
The Minister spoke positively about her intention to ensure families affected by HD will have access to necessary services and that family carers, who often care for several family members, have assistance.
She acknowledged the vital need for HD specialist support in the community to overcome the misunderstanding and stigma associated with the disease over generations.
The Minister also confirmed her priority to fully resource at least four of the seven required community neuro-rehabilitation teams around the country.
A member of a family affected by HD in County Galway said: “It is very encouraging to have Minister Rabbitte speak at our meeting to acknowledge the huge struggles families face.
“Huntington’s Disease desperately needs more recognition, more specialist support and more awareness from healthcare professionals; policy makers; and the general public.
“As children we grew up watching our Dad help care for Mum and just a few years later he had to start over with my older brother.
“Now my sister has symptoms and it is an ongoing struggle to get her the care and support she needs. HD families can overcome the fear and stigma associated with this disease if we know there are sufficient resources to ensure health and social care professionals can understand and help,” he said.
Huntington’s Disease affects the body’s nervous system – the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that co-ordinate your body’s activities. This leads to progressive deterioration – physically, cognitively, and mentally until the individual becomes dependent on the help of others. Symptoms include motor (movement), mental health (for example mood) and cognitive (for example learning and thinking) disturbances, which in the majority of cases appear in mid-adult life.
Approximately 1,000 people in Ireland live with symptoms of HD or with the altered gene that triggers the disease. There are more than 3,000 people nationwide who are living at risk of developing the disease and hundreds of family carers left to struggle without adequate supports.
Despite the impact on families, from one generation to the next, there is little awareness of the condition and very limited specialist services. Unlike most other European countries, Ireland has no specialist multidisciplinary services or HD specialist nurses. By comparison, Scotland, with a similar-sized population have 10 regional multidisciplinary clinics with a team of 19 HD specialists offering outreach support throughout the country.
Concerns over day care move
Day care services at St Brendan’s Community Nursing Unit – which have been suspended for the past 18 months – have re-opened at the Loughrea Hotel.
Services restarted on Monday following a lengthy search for a suitable premises, and expected to continue operating from the hotel for around 18 months while an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus is “repurposed” by the HSE.
However, at least one local councillor has expressed concerns that the same level of services will not be available at the hotel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ordered the closure of day services at St Brendan’s, so that the space could be used by permanent residents of the nursing unit for dining and activities such as cooking and baking.
Local area councillor Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said that between the hotel and St Brendan’s hospital, a day care service will now be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the capacity to serve 86 people every week.
“The service is vital to Loughrea and East Galway. Everyone was very disappointed to see the day service suspended. We all have neighbours and friends who use the service and this was a vital lifeline for them, allowing them to socialise with others, to have a lovely meal together and to have any minor medical issues dealt with.
“I’m delighted that a suitable premises has been found in Loughrea town, which has been the traditional location for the service and also offers users a chance to avail of other services in our local town. The Loughrea Hotel is the perfect location with all of the necessary services on site and is easily accessed by the service users”, the Fine Gael councillor and Cathaoirleach of Loughrea Municipal District said.
However, Independent councillor Geraldine Donohue raised concerns about the level of services that will be provided and said she had been asked by constituents how much the temporary service was going to cost.
“I believe that HIQA should have been challenged from the outset for our purpose built Seven Springs Day Care Centre to remain at St Brendan’s. As far as operating Day Care Services from the Loughrea Hotel, I have concerns that the services that the attendees enjoyed at Seven Springs will not be available at the Loughrea Hotel,” she said.
Meanwhile Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said HSE management are also planning to repurpose an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus to establish a permanent home for the day care service.
He said he had attended a site meeting recently to identify potential buildings on the campus.
“We now need to begin developing a permanent home for the service at St Brendan’s as it makes sense from so many perspectives to have the service on campus.
“At our site meeting we walked the campus and have identified a number of potential locations. The HSE’s building management team will now create a shortlist of locations and ultimately a decision on the final location will be made in consultation with staff.
“The intention is to partner with the Topping Trust, a local charity, to create a state-of-the-art day care facility at St Brendan’s to open in the shortest possible timeframe. We are all working towards that outcome and there’s a serious sense of urgency attached to the project,” said Deputy Cannon.