Visitors to the Donaghmore Workhouse and Agricultural Museum see the rooms of an Irish workhouse almost exactly as they appeared in the late 1800s. The Donaghmore Workhouse was built to house the most desperate people of County Laois. Paid for by a tax on local property owners, the workhouse was deliberately made as unattractive as possible so that its only residents would be those who had lost all hope.
People who entered the workhouse suffered the ultimate shame. Once inside, they gave up their clothes and put on rough workhouse uniforms. Families were split apart as boys and girls went to their dormitories, while adults were sent to others. Living conditions were grim. Inmates slept on rough mattresses of straw, covered with rags. The only toilet facilities were large tubs in centre of dormitories. Inmates worked at tasks during the day, then ate their meals in total silence.
By the time the Donaghmore Workhouse opened in 1853, many of the poorest of the area had already perished or emigrated. The workhouse was probably only filled for a few years before it closed in 1886. In the early 1920s, the “Black and Tans” used the buildings as a barracks. Then, in 1927, the Donaghmore Co-Operative Society adapted the workhouse to serve local farmers. Part of the workhouse was donated to the community as a place to tell the history of the area. Today committed volunteers bring that history to life through the Donaghmore Workhouse and Agricultural Museum.