Workhouse Child

BookWorkhouse Child

Workhouse Child

Poverty, Child Welfare and the Poor Law in Industrial Belfast, 1880-1918

Reappraisals in Irish History, 17


May 1st, 2022





The late nineteenth-century city acted as a magnet for the poor of rural Ireland, attracting them with the promise of employment and economic independence. For many, however, urban life meant economic precarity, marginalisation and destitution, with the workhouse as an all-too-present reality. Young families were particularly vulnerable, with the result that thousands of children found themselves confined within the workhouse walls.
This book explores the changing role of the Irish poor law in child welfare in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century city. Taking as its focus Belfast, a burgeoning industrial and port city at the heart of a global trade network and a city deeply divided along political and confessional lines, it examines the ways in which that city’s poorest children and their families engaged with the poor law and used the workhouse as part of their economy of makeshifts. It examines the various spaces of the poor law – whether the workhouse, the foster home, or the far reaches of empire – as sites of encounter and engagement between welfare authorities and the city’s poorest families, and explores the development of child welfare practice at a time of increasing state encroachment into the daily lives of poor children.

Author Information

Olwen Purdue is Professor of Irish Social History at Queen’s University Belfast. Georgina Laragy is Glasnevin Trust Assistant Professor in Public History and Cultural Heritage at Trinity College Dublin.