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Naas Workhouse Famine Fare. Black '47

James Durney

During the Great Hunger it became the work of the Poor Law Unions to house and feed the destitute and starving millions in Ireland. The British government had earlier established a workhouse system as a possible solution to the problem of the able-bodied but destitute poor in Ireland. Based on the English workhouse system 130 Poor Law Unions were established across the country, Naas Union being the first one declared. The system was controlled by the Poor Law Commission based in Dublin and was administered by eight assistant commissioners who acted as inspectors over the activities of the unions. The Naas Union comprised of 23 electoral divisions. These were Naas, Kill, Bodenstown, Rathmore, Killashee, Carnalway, Gilltown, Kilcullen, Usk, Clane, Timahoe, Downings, Caragh, Kilmeague, Rathernan, Old Connell, Newbridge, Moorefield, Kildare, Ballysax, Ballymore-Eustace, Blessington, and Boystown. Naas was one of three unions established in the county, with the other two in Athy and Celbridge.
In September 1845 the first signs of potato blight began to appear in Ireland and by November the disease had reached County Kildare. From early in 1846 the Poor Law system began to feel the effects of the potato crop failure and its total inadequacy to handle the growing numbers of destitute people seeking relief. The Naas workhouse – built in 1839 – had a capacity for 550 inmates, but in 1846 there were 771 admissions. The following year – Black ’47 – admissions were much the same, but, because of the rising poverty, collectors in some of the poorer districts were finding it difficult to collect rates. The supply and quality of food in the workhouse depended on the number of paupers in the house and other external factors. In its early days the workhouse was comfortably able to provide enough fare for the inmates but, by 1847 this was not so and in December of that year a proposal to increase the quantities of food on Christmas Day was turned down by the board.
On the week ending 29 May 1847 there were 736 inmates in the Naas Poor Law Union workhouse. There were fourteen deaths or discharges and thirteen admittances that week. These inmates required 125 gallons of new milk daily; six gallons of buttermilk; 156 four pound loaves; and 186 lbs of meat weekly. The medical officer approved the following fare for that week:

Classes        Breakfast                            Dinner                                      Supper

Adults         3oz rice                                8oz bread and 1 pint of                  None
                    3oz Indian meal                    soup made from 3oz
                    2 naggins buttermilk              of meat on Sunday and 
                    1 naggin new milk mixed       Thursday each week
                    3oz Indian meal and 3oz
                    oatmeal with 2 naggins
                    buttermilk and 1 new
                    milk mixed for
                    remaining five days

9-15 years   2oz rice                                6oz bread and 1 pint soup         4oz bread
                    2oz Indian meal                   two days as above
                    ½ pint new milk                   2oz Indian meal and
                    2oz oatmeal ½ pint
                    new milk remaining 5 days 

2-9 years    1½oz rice                    4oz bread and ½ pint new                  3oz bread
                   1½oz Indian meal                  milk on 5 days
                   ½ pint new milk                    soup instead of milk on
                    2 days

Infants          ½ lb of bread and one pint of new milk for the day
under 2

Naas Workhouse Famine Fare. Black '47. An article reproduced from the Naas Poor Law Union Minute Books. Our thanks to James.

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