Celbridge Poor Law Union Burial Ground
Union was spared scenes of degradation and suffering that were commonplace in the West and South and indeed other regions including the South Kildare area.
The essential explanation of this lies in the term 'famine' in relation to Ireland during 1845-1849. There was an abundance of food in the country except for potatoes. Any area which was spared dependence on the conacre system with its related dependence on potatoes as the sole food crop, and had a cash economy instead, could and did escape the worst horrors of the famine.
The conacre system was an Irish rural phenomenon. Most of Irish agriculture during 1845-49 was tillage based which was labour intensive, requiring large amounts of manual labour in a pre-farm machine era. Such labour was paid for by means of the conacre system.
"The potato, not money, was the basic factor by which the value of labour was determined. Farmers and landlords gave their labourers a cabin and a piece of potato ground or permitted them to put up a cabin and allowed them a portion of conacre. Rent in each case was worked off in cheap labour... the real reward being the patch of potato ground. Customarily the only dealing in money was the receipt of a few shillings from the sale of a pig, and this provided such clothes as the family possessed. The poorest labourers could not afford a pig and sums of small value only were involved."
As a result when the potato crop failed during the 1840s in Ireland, those large areas with populations dependant solely on the potato were devastated, with the newly created workhouse and Poor Law system overrun.
It appears that the North Kildare area had a largely cash economy. This does not mean that the local population was well off, but was spared a total dependence on the potato crop, with cash available for the purchase of some food.
The reasons for this are various:
The main landowners, particularly in Carton and Castletown had developed a pasture economy. The care of pasture animals was less labour intensive and was paid in cash.
Many of the local towns (Celbridge, Leixlip, Maynooth and Lucan) had a range of small industries in the form of mills, ironworks and distilleries which provided a cash wage.
The many estates and attendant Great Houses (not only Carton and Castletown) in the area created a service and maintenance wage economy. Similarly Maynooth College, which in the 1840s had a population of 500 students, created another service and wage economy. The construction of the railway system linking Dublin to Mullingar (including stations at Maynooth, Kilcock and Enfield) also during the 1840s, created further wage.
However, from extant statistics in relation to the Celbridge Union and Workhouse it is clear that the famine had an impact on the area with poverty and suffering increasing substantially as a result. They also show that the Workhouse experienced overcrowding in 1847 - generally accepted as the height of the famine (Black '47) - and that a relatively large number of interments took place in the period 1845-49.
Celbridge Union Workhouse and Fever Hospital 1842-50
Year · Reception (Male/Female) · Deaths (Male/Female)
1842 · 104 · 6
1843 · 78 · 4
1844 · 75 · 2
1845 · 83 · 4
1846 · 141 · 13
1847 · 811 · 66
1848 · 295 · 25
1849 · 393 · 39
1850 · 322 · 12
Comparable figures for more affected areas of the country in 1847
Town · Reception (Male/Female) · Deaths (Male/Female)
Ennis · 5462 · 960
Nenagh · 2295 · 264
Clonmel · 4566 · 194
The End of the Celbridge Union
In 1923 the government of the newly formed Saorstate Eireann (Irish Free State) which arose out of the Anglo Irish Treaty of 192 passed the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923.
The heading of the Act was clear and unambiguous. It was the purpose of the Act to 'Remedy the more serious defects in the existing law relating to the relief of the poor and certain other matters of local government'.
This legislation abolished the Poor Law system in Ireland and centralized the administration of the relief of the poor under each county council. The property of each Board of Guardians passed to the relevant county council, but the responsible Minister could sell any surplus property previously belonging to a Board of Guardians and hold the proceeds in trust for any purpose that the property would have been used prior to its disposal.
The Act specified that County Kildare was to be a unit for the purpose of the administration of the duties previously performed by the Boards of Guardians in the County.
The workhouse hospitals in Athy and Celbridge were subsequently abolished and one hospital for the county was established in Naas using the buildings of the Naas Workhouse.
The workhouse had a bit part in the turbulent beginnings of the state. It was taken over by the newly formed Free State Army in 1922 and used as a temporary barracks and recruitment centre. This in turn led to it being attacked by irregular Anti Treaty elements until their dispersal in late 1922. Paddy Mullaney, a forceful and efficient leader of the I.R.A. from 1919 to 1921 and later a leading irregular in the area, recalled years later that the first Free State Army uniforms were worn in Celbridge.
"Celbridge was the first place to have men in uniform... Celbridge was made into a training camp. Mick Collins came out to see the first men put into uniform. 35 of them and we were friendly with them at the time".
The workhouse buildings in Celbridge were eventually sold in accordance with the terms of the Act.
The Ordnance Survey Map of Celbridge for 1939 shows that the buildings were then known as 'The Union Mills Paint Factory'. It is also clear from the map that a section of the workhouse grounds had been allocated to provide a site for the offices of the Garda Siochána.
In 1953 the Union Mills Paint Factory was sold as a going concern to its current occupiers, General Paints, thus continuing its use as a paint factory, unbroken since its disposal by the state.
Its use as a paint factory, while resulting in structural alterations, has also left areas of the building suffering from benign neglect. As a result there are areas almost untouched from its time as a workhouse - original staircases, hearths, doors and windows, as well as long hidden glimpses of original plaster work and paintwork.