What do you think of when you think of the poor in Ireland? Chances are it’s The Potato Famine, which prompted mass emigration from 1845-1852. But the problem started earlier than the potato blight. The island was overpopulated and a great many people who could not afford to go to America or Canada to seek a new life took the shorter route to England. The indigent there were becoming a problem so the British government decided to bring The Poor Law that already existed in England and Wales to Ireland with the Act for the Effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland in 1838.
Poor Law Unions were created in political districts, which in Ireland were townlands. And a tax brought in money to support the workhouses that were built, although that was hardly enough to support them. The people who ran them were elected from the district. Usually a master ran the house and a mistress was in charge of the women and children. The poor were expected to work and were fed mostly gruel. The buildings were cold and damp. Men were separated from women and the children were separated from their parents.
The granting of relief was at the discretion of the Poor Law Guardians. Priority was given to the aged and infirm, children and people resident within the Union concerned. Boards of Guardians were elected annually on the 25th March, and only cess payers could vote. Later in the nineteenth century the Poor Law developed to encompass services such as outdoor relief, medical services for the poor, assisted migration and other social services.
Something good we can take out of this is the records that had to be kept can be helpful in genealogy research. If you think your ancestor lived in an Irish workhouse, this might help you. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Ireland_Poorhouses,_Poor_Law,_Etc