After the passing of the act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 successive Governments attempted to come to terms with the problem of chronic poverty in Ireland. various surveys were carried out and commissions established with the objective of recommending solutions. Finally, in the late 1830's it was decided to tackle the problem by means of the Workhouse System.
The "Irish Poor Law Act" as it was popularly known was passed into law by both houses of parliament in April 1838 and received the Royal Assent on the 31st july that year. Its principal provisions were as follows:-
The unions were subdivided into electoral divisions which returned elected representatives called Poor Law Guardians. The Board of Guardians as they were termed had power to levy a rate in their union areas to finance the workhouses. A valuation was made of all property.
The granting of relief was to be at the discretion of the Guardians and nobody, however poor, had a statutory right to relief.
Relief was to be granted only in the workhouse, and in the event of the workhouse accommodation being inadequate, preference was to be given to the aged, the infirm, the defective and the children. Persons resident in the union to which the workhouse belonged were to be given preference to persons resident elsewhere. (Mendicants were often "moved on").
The Poor Law commissioners had overall control of all of the Unions.
The Callan Union was situated partly in county Kilkenny and partly in County Tipperary. It comprised an area of 106,633 statute acres, with a population in 1831 of 42,707. Its electoral divisions were Callan, Kilmurry, Kilmoganny, Dunamaggin, Knocktopher, Kells, Burnchurch, Grove and Kilmanagh in Co. Kilkenny, and Mullinahone, Lismolin and Ballingarry in Co. Tipperary. It had 215 elected Guardians: 7 from the Callan division; 4 for Ballingarry; 3 for Mullinahone; 2 each for Kilmoganny and Knocktopher; and 1 each for the other divisions, plus 8 ex-officio guardians. the ex-officio guardians were drawn mainly from the gentry.
The management structure in the workhouse was laid down by the Poor Law Commissioners. They decided that the following staff should be employed:
To enforce industry, order, punctuality and cleanliness.
To read the prayers to the paupers before breakfast and after supper each day, or cause the prayers to be read.
To cause the paupers to be inspected and their names called over immediately after morning prayers each day in order that it may be seen that each individual is clean and in the proper state.
To provide for and enforce the employment of the able-bodied adult paupers during the whole of the hours of labour in such employment as would best fit.
Supplies for the Workhouse were bought by tender. Everything from food to bed clothes was acquired by this method. For example shoes were tendered as follows:-
Tender for Workhouse Supplies
To the Board of Guardians, Callan Union.
I, James Phelan of Callan, shoemaker, do hereby propose to supply you, at the price herein stated the following:-
150 pairs of mens shoes at four shillings and eight pence per pair,
150 pairs of womens shoes at three shillings and six pence per pair, and childrens shoes at two shillings and sixpence per pair.
Your obedient servant
dated 20th day of January 1842.