Report from 'The Nation' newspaper on Portumna Workhouse

30th July 1864
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In 1864 two Irish newspapers, the Freemans Journal and The Nation discussed the dire food being served to paupers housed at the Portumna Workhouse is East County Galway, under the management of the infamous Henry Ogle.

The Evil Master

The Master, Henry Ogle, was accused of supplying food that was so bad that paupers refused to eat it even when hungry. The bread was described by the Freeman’s Journal on 29 July 1864 as ‘coagulated Indian meal as hard as a flag … we can compare it to nothing more than a fragment of granite containing copper. It could not be champed by any force of dental pressure and could not be digested by any stomach’. The Nation of 30 July 1864 also carried the story.

Kitty Madden, the mother of a blind girl who took fits, gave evidence that she carried her daughter, Mary, to the infirmary on her back but the cake made her vomit and her mother was loathe to let her die on that diet. Another pauper, Judy Solon, testified the bread was ‘always blue-moulded and musty’. The Nation newspaper noted that on one occasion 200 rations of the objectionable food was so bad that it was thrown out on the instruction of the Guardians.

A woman named Mrs Calligy offered to buy it to feed to her pigs but her offer was refused and it was thrown into the cesspool. John Howard, whose leg ulcers were so bad that he had to be carried in to give his evidence, stated that the food made him so thirsty that he was forced to drink his own urine. He also claimed that he could no longer stand up because his ulcers had not been properly treated by Dr. Coates and that he had been discharged without a shirt to wear.

In response Dr. Coates stated that ‘I do not ask patients how they feel before I discharge them; I use my hands, my eyes, my ears and my own judgment in discharging persons; I do not think it is necessary before doing so’. A mock enquiry was held into the treatment of inmates and the appalling diet they were receiving, however no action was taken against either Ogle or Coates notwithstanding the weight of evidence against them.

This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 31. 

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