The Workhouse was built in 1841 as one of three planned for County Leitrim – at Carrick-on-Shannon, Manorhamilton and Mohill – by the Poor Law enacted in 1838. This workhouse in Carrick-on-Shannon is the only one that survives.
It had a capacity for 800 inmates, which was continually tested in its initial years of operation. It was run by a board of Guardians composed of Justices of the Peace and various local property owners, and handled on a day to day basis by the Master and Matron. Staff members included chaplains, a record clerk, medical officer and school teachers.
Families who came to live at the workhouse were forced to dwell in separate quarters, and children met with their parents only on Sundays. In the period leading up to the Great Famine, several smaller incidents preceded it. For example, in 1845, County Leitrim experienced its first potato blight. Corn was imported from America to feed the people, while public building projects provided work for the needy.
Then in 1846, the potato crop failed completely and Carrick-on Shannon became the scene of rampant starvation, illness and death. The workhouse became overcrowded and the situation was desperate, with 12 deaths or more per week. Soup kitchens were established in 1847, alleviating some of the hunger, but disease was more difficult to eradicate.
After the Famine, the workhouse continued to operate until the 1930s, when it was transformed into a geriatric hospital called St. Patrick’s, which has developed a reputation as one of the best in Ireland.
A memorial to those who died during the Famine coexists here, in the rooms of the original whitewashed attic that remain, as well as the graveyard at the rear of the hospital, which has been transformed into a memorial garden.