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Mary Conroy Exhibition

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The Irish Workhouse Centre is very proud to have recently hosted a selection of paintings by Killeen native Mary Conroy. The works had been created over the past 12 years and represent the first solo exhibition by the Fine Arts graduate. Mary currently resides in Cork but retains strong ties with her family in Portumna. Indeed, she attended Portumna secondary school long before she attended Crawford College of Art and Design (Cork) where she graduated with a BA in Fine Art in 2008, and a H. Dip in Art Design in 2010.



The exhibition vividly showcases Mary's love of nature. Her oil paint depictions of sea splashed rocks show a perfect match of medium and subject. Sparkling light and restless waves brings life to the dark colours of her Irish seascapes. Vibrant watercolours glow with warm, welcoming shades that draw you into their country scenes. Detailed depictions of flowers show a keen botanical eye yet keep a fluid carefree style.


This is not the first time that Mary's work …

Heritage Week 2019

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Heritage Week already! It feels like we've only just finished cleaning up craft supplies and tea lights after last year's events when it's time to get ready again. 
This year National Heritage Week runs from 17-25 August with events literally in every county. The Irish Workhouse Centre has lots to offer with children's workshops, a Gaeilge Day and loads of free talks. 


The theme this year is Pastimes & Past Times, exploring the links between history and hobbies. On Saturday 17th bring the kids to a craft session called 'Communicating in the Past'. The session is on at Portumna workhouse and run by local artist Paula Byrne (cost 2 euro per child & booking essential). Let the whole family explore the link between the ancient Irish alphabet called Ogham and Celtic tree-lore. For instance, did you know that we all have a tree linked to our name? Each child will craft their own special book mark to bring home. Start time is 12 o'clock. Call 0909759200 f…

The Hunger House by Conor McGuire

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The Famine was a seismic event in 19th century Ireland, and is probably the most universally known point in Irish history. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that  historical fiction set in Ireland has been dominated by this event. However, The Hunger House branches out in a new and widely neglected direction by exploring a different facet of life in 19th century Ireland; the workhouse. We are delighted at the Irish Workhouse Centre to be stocking this inspiring novel by Mayo writer, journalist and artist, Conor McGuire which is already an Amazon No. 1 Bestseller.

The novel tells the story of intelligent Bridget Hennigan, who takes up the post of Matron at Ballina workhouse. Her quick mind and professional nature are a challenge to the all male administration which makes up the Board of Guardians. To make matters worse, the resident medical officer Dr Whyte is a nasty piece of work. Bridget realises that only she can stop him but at what price?


What I love about this book is …

June Events: Landed Estates Conference and Paul Strzelecki Exhibition

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June has two very exciting events happening at the Irish Workhouse Centre. The first is our Annual Landed Estates Conference and the second is the opening of a permanent exhibition devoted to Paul Strzelecki (A Forgotten Polish Hero of the Great Irish Famine).

Landed Estates Conference

At the beginning of the 19th century there were over 4,000 ‘Big House Country Estates’ in Ireland. Today there are less than 100. These estates, and attached mansions, symbolized the economic strength and social standing of different landed families. However, estates were about far more than just the ‘Big House’, they were also an intrinsic part of tenant and labourer lives, and are a vital part of understanding Ireland's economic history. In essence, the story of the big house is the story of Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Our special guest speakers this year are Dr Karol Mullaney-Dignam and Dr Marion McGarry.

Itinerary: 10:00     John Joe Conwell / The development of the Big House and Estates …

Transition Year Art Collaboration

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A group of Transition Year students, namely Jessica Madden, Keeva Duffy, Maria Quinn, Cerys Porter, Shauna Fahy and Sean Power, have reached out to Portumna workhouse. As a group they designed and painted a series of boards for the workhouse infirmary. Here are their own words about the project.


"We got inspiration mainly from what life would be like if you lived in a workhouse. The boards consist of four scenes which are now in the places where the original infirmary doors and windows were missing. 



The paintings tell the story of a person's life in the workhouse, from our own perspective. We decided to have a main focus throughout the works; a man in red. He became our main character in the story. The first board shows him entering the workhouse with his family. We tried to depict the fact  that the family had no other option if they wanted a chance of survival. 



The next scene is what we called the ‘separation scene’. This scene shows the stress and sadness of the family bein…

The Irish Workhouse Museum is Open!

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The Irish Workhouse Museum is officially open! The opening on Saturday 18th was launched by Minister of State Sean Canney TD and marks a new, exciting era for the Irish Workhouse Centre (IWC). The museum is located in a former womens' workroom and houses the centre's collection of artefacts. These range from the shaft of a workhouse cart to the tiny, blacksmith made nails which were used in workhouse construction. The impact of the museum is succinctly described by long-term supporter of the project, Dr. Christy Cunniffe, Community Archaeologist for Galway. 
 'Artefacts and personal objects can tell big stories. The workhouse tour brings the building to life, and the museum will do the same for their objects. Just look at the pauper shoes we have discovered at Portumna. Nothing expresses the sadness of workhouse children like those reminders of tiny feet.'



Workhouse objects are especially poignant when we consider that all Irish people, or people with Irish heritage, hav…

Workhouse Farms in Ireland

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For a long time, the 'work' in Irish workhouses was thought to exclude farming. However, recent research shows that many Irish workhouses had farms. Due to irregular or no account keeping, it is hard for us to piece together a picture of what farming was like in a workhouse setting. However, what we can do is look at a snap shot of figures from parliamentary documents.*These documents reveal a surprising fact. Out of the 163 workhouses across Ireland, only 37 had no land under cultivation. Over half of these 37 are from the second wave of building.
Workhouse building in Ireland took place in two waves. There were the first 130 which were planned as a complete set to provide relief for 1% of the Irish population. Then the crisis resulting from potato blight led to 33 extra workhouses being hastily built. These were needed due to chronic overcrowding and it seems that acquiring farmland was the least of their concerns. It is probable that some of these extra workhouses di…