Thinking About Irish History - The Union Workhouse, Schull

The theme for the opening group exhibition of the year at The Blue House Gallery, Schull was 'The History Show', where thirty local artist were invited to submit work on any historical subject to mark the 1916 Easter Rising Centennial. Donagh responded to the theme by focusing on his immediate locality, always desiring to learn more about the environment in which he lives. On the road from Schull to Ballydehob, is a high, fairly significant section of stone built boundary wall, behind which was the former Workhouse.

 Union Workhouse, Schull ll, 2016  -  Oil on board, Painting 14cm x 14cm, Frame 40cm x 40cm

Union Workhouse, Schull ll, 2016  -  Oil on board, Painting 14cm x 14cm, Frame 40cm x 40cm

 

Walking across the pastoral and tranquil grounds that once housed the Union Workhouse in Schull, it is hard to imagine the suffering and hardship endured by the 'inmates' whose circumstances had brought them to the admittance entrance. Little is left now of what must have been an formidable institution, which simultaneously offered salvation to those who were starving and destitute, but also shame that they could no longer look after themselves.

Union Workhouse, Schull l, 2016   -  Oil on board, Painting 14cm x 14cm, Frame 40cm x 40cm

 

More than a hundred workhouses already existed in Ireland, but the Schull Workhouse was one of 33 which opened as a response to the famine. On arrival, families were separated into male and female wards with another section for children. In addition to the sleeping accommodation, there was a maternity ward, chapel, mortuary, kitchen, refectory and school – children were meant to be schooled, but in reality this rarely happened. Women were set to work in the laundry and men worked on the land in exchange for basic food. Life was bleak, often with overcrowding, disease and poor nutrition and with staff who were inadequately trained to supervise.

 Union Workhouse, Schull lll, 2016   -   Oil on board, Painting 14cm x 14cm, Frame 40cm x 40cm

Union Workhouse, Schull lll, 2016   -   Oil on board, Painting 14cm x 14cm, Frame 40cm x 40cm

 

A mile from Schull, the building was designed to house 600 people on it's eleven acres and must have been architecturally impressive. In the peaceful, now ruined grounds, it's hard to imagine the site once occupied by hundreds of desperate and physically debilitated people. Many only survived the hardship of those brutal times, because they could enter the Workhouse, but they only did so as a last resort, having no other option. In 1921, the Union Workhouse in Schull was burned down by the IRA, fearing it would be used as barracks by the British Army, also destroying it's records, testimonies and documents. So the stories of ancestors who endured those times are erased, leaving only fragments of the building, the boundary wall, the gates.