Wexford Workhouse (frequently reffered to as “The Old Hospital”) is situated on Old Hospital Road in Wexford Town.
Workhouses (sometimes referred to as “poor houses”) were places where the poor and destitute could go to live. In return, they were cut off from the rest of society and forced to work a minimum of 11 hours per day. Upon entering the workhouse, inmates were forced to abide by a number of harsh rules and regulations:
- Families were immediately split up and mothers were forbidden from seeing their children. Husbands and wives were separated and banned from communicating with one another.
- All inmates were woken up at 6AM. Roll call was at 6.30AM.
- Day-to-day duties included carpentry, tailoring, sewing, building, cooking, cleaning, stone smashing and farming.
- All personal belongings were immediately confiscated and kept in a storage facility.
- Inmates were given a Standard Issue uniform to wear.
Those who broke the rules were subjected to a number of different punishments, which included 24 lashes, no dinner for a week and solitary confinement.
These harsh rules were put in place to dissuade able-bodied people from taking advantage of the free food and accommodation that a workhouse could provide. i.e. The conditions were made so unfavourable that only the most desperate of people would apply for entry.
Wexford’s Workhouse was opened in 1845 and it had the capacity to house 600 inmates (although, during The Great Famine, the number of occupants in the workhouse managed to reach a total of 1771). Situated in the north east of Wexford Town, the workhouse consisted of a three storey building, which had male and female accommodation wings on either side, with a Master’s quarters in the centre.
According to historical records, the first person to be admitted to the workhouse was a woman called Mary O’ Brien. The date of her admittance was Friday, the 25th of July, 1845.
Above: The infirmary block, which was situated behind the workhouse.
The paupers that entered this particular building were given two meals per day. These meals consisted of potatoes, oatmeal and bread. On special days such as Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, the occupants would sometimes be treated to meals that contained “luxury” foods such as bacon and vegetables. On Christmas Day in 1899, the records show that the occupants of Wexford Workhouse received plum pudding for dessert. In 1903, the Board of Guardians decided that a pig would be slaughtered for Easter dinner.
Throughout the famine years, the occupants of the union workhouse began to swell. After the Great Famine had ended, Wexford continued to suffer, thanks in no small part to an ongoing agricultural depression, which left many labourers without work. A report published by the Wexford Independent in 1847 described the worsening situation. It went on to state how the number of beggars in Wexford was “surprising”. According to the report, many of these beggars exhibited a “misery and hunger” that was “indescribable by words”. They had “cheeks like scorched leather” and eyes that were “sunken”. Their voices sounded as if they were “emanating from a tomb” and their accents were “inaudible from weakness”.
Unfortunately for many of the poor souls that entered this building, their only escape would prove to be an unmarked grave in the Pauper’s Graveyard.
Locally, the building is often referred to as the “Old Hospital”, as it was used as a hospital by the HSE between the 1920s and the early 1990s.
Above, you can see that even the more “modern” parts of the building are lying in a derelict condition.
Considered too dangerous to enter, the building has had its insides stripped out and is currently boarded up to prevent entry. According to an article by the Irish Independent, many of the floorboards and Belfast sinks were ripped out and used in some of the various refurbishment projects around County Wexford.
In 2011, the Wexford Borough Council served the owners of the building, the HSE, with a dangerous structures notice.
One interesting record from the era details an incident in which a “pauper lunatic” was left to live in squalid conditions:
On the 23rd of the last month, at the weekly meeting of the guardians, attention was drawn to a report of the visitors, which stated that in one of the female cells they found a lunatic in a most filthy condition. It seems that the infirmary nuns, who are the paid nurses, neglected their duty of looking after this pauper lunatic; and the matron, on being brought before the Board, acknowledged that she had not entered that particular cell for the past three weeks, being otherwise engaged, and having confidence in the nurses. After some discussion, the guardians ordered that for the future the matron should inspect all the departments of the hospital daily, and be cautious in not permitting the repetition of a similar occurrence.
Nowadays, the inside of the building consists of missing floorboards, graffiti-stained walls and collapsed ceilings.
Although the grounds are guarded by gates and fences, you can get a glimpse of the building via the entrance on Old Hospital Road, which is just up past Walnut Grove.
You will also be able to get a full view of the front of the building from Spawell Road.