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Blast from the Past

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The two adult woman are: on the left May Conway (Gortanumera) and on the right Kitty Hayes (Al Hayes mother) The young girls from left to right are : Rita Conway, Josephine Conway, Mary Conway, Maeve Hayes, Esther Hayes and Ann Conway

A few days ago, two ladies brought in a photograph taken at Portumna Workhouse in c.1964. The  occasion was the annual Portumna Show and in the background is a glimpse of the workhouse laundry building. The snapshot got us all talking about Portumna workhouse after it closed in 1921 so I decided to dig out our newspaper cuttings and see what I could find.

The closure of Portumna Workhouse was announced in March 1921. Not every Galway workhouse is scheduled to shut. Galway, Tuam and Loughrea will stay open. Ballinasloe and Clifden are retained as District Hospitals.  (03 March 1921, The Irish Independent)

By December 1921 the remaining residents in Portumna Workhouse and Hospital are sent to the County Home in Loughrea. Unfortunately, their transport break…

'Finding Ogle' Book Launch

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Last night saw the packed launch of the first ever book dedicated to a chapter of Portumna Workhouse history. Finding Ogle: The mystery of the Disappearing Master solves a century old mystery and is the debut book of Local Historian David Broderick.



"In 1865 the Master of Portumna Workhouse, Henry Ogle, absconded under a shroud of mystery. It took over 150 years to finally find Ogle. Follow this fascinating story between Ogle and his nemesis, a determined missionary priest, Fr. Patrick Donnellan. The story begins in famine ravaged Ireland, explores the cruelty of the workhouse and crosses the Atlantic into the American Civil War."



David became fascinated with the mystery of Henry Ogle while he was a researcher at the Irish Workhouse Centre but it has been a long road to the book launch last night. To solve the mystery has required countless hours of searching old newspapers and maps, tramps through muddy fields and even a trip to New York. Fellow detective has been archivist…

Shorelines 2019 at the Workhouse

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The upper storeys of the workhouse are slowly being transformed in a wonderland of artistic expression. There is something very cathartic about seeing the walls change from bare, white-washed reminders of a cruel regime to a multi-coloured kaleidoscope of free expression. In case you haven't guessed what I am talking about, it's the return  of the annual art exhibition in The Gallery at the Workhouse. This will run from the 9th September-22nd September. Themes of beauty, mystery, colour and myth are all expressed in a variety of mediums. Let's dive in and see what is on offer!



Ann McKenna is a painter and print-maker whose work conjures fairy-tales and Shakespeare in equal measure. https://www.annmckenna.ie/Lisa Griffin is an Irish photographer with an amazing eye for fashion photography and a dream-like quality to her work. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lisagriffinphotographyMary O'Connor is an artist fascinated by her surroundings who expresses her experiences throug…

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 …