By the time the famine struck in 1845 over 120 workhouses in Ireland had been built to house the extremely poor and suffering from the famine. People only went there if they had been evicted, starving or an orphan. The workhouses were overcrowded and diseases like typhus and cholera spread easily. Upon arrival families were split up, boys with boys, girls with girls, and many of the families did not know if other family members were sick or dying.
Clothes were taken and individuals were given a uniform and a basic diet. The uniform meant you were their property. If you left with it on, you were stealing their property; there were few options to leave the workhouse. Your diet was water with oats similar to oatmeal but less nutritious. People were forced to do tedious work and hard labor day after day.
There was a strict timetable to ensure everything ran smoothly and people stayed busy. Here is an example of a timetable a workhouse had.
Rise at 5:45am
Breakfast at 6:30am - 7am
Work 7am till 12 noon
Lunch from 12 to 1pm
Work from 1pm – 6pm
Supper and wash 6pm - 6:30pm
Bed at 8pm
Despite the bleakness of the workhouse the buildings are quite impressive. They were created by architect George Wilkinson for an annual salary of 500 pounds. He created 130 workhouses in total and was appointed by the government. These workhouses were to house 2,000 people from the local towns and villages. They are massive areas some with numerous buildings, morgues, graveyards, and chapels.
So why am I going into such detail about the workhouses? Well that’s because we are working in one...
Many of the workhouses have been revamped to become anything from bars to museums. Ours houses many different business such as The Business Training Center, a travel company, Achieve Gym and most importantly Workhouse Studios!
The jewelry studio is the old alter where they held mass. On the walls you can see where the nuns decorated with stencils. There is lots of creativity that happens here: ceramics, textiles, paper making, jewelry, and glass. Everyone in the workshop is either well established and is showing their work or is on their way with business plans and all. What the best part of this organization is the business training center next door. People get paid by the government to take classes which include setting up spreadsheets, web design, business planning and more. The artist in the workhouse become very savvy in all aspects of business. I must admit they are ahead of the game! I am learning from everyone and my beautiful surroundings in Ireland inspire me. I am getting work done but I never want to be left alone in the workhouse at night. Yes here I am afraid of the dark.