The Irish in America

Donaghmore Workhouse Museum


Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum Donaghmore, County Laois

The Donaghmore Famine Workhouse Museum provides a fascinating “two-in-one”  museum experience. It seems odd at first – agricultural artifacts displayed in a nineteenth century workhouse?

Names etched into walls by Black&Tan soldiers at Donaghmore Workhouse

But in the case of Donaghmore, it makes perfect sense. The workhouse opened in 1853. By that time many of the Irish who suffered the effects of the Great Famine (1845-59) had already died or emigrated. The workhouse remained open until 1886. The Black and Tans (British soldiers in Ireland) used the workhouse as a barracks in the early 1920s before the Donaghmore Co-operative Society established the Donaghmore Creamery in the workhouse buildings in 1927.

Butter label

The Co-operative donated two workhouse buildings to the community, and in 1988 a committee of volunteers was formed to renovate, interpret, and manage the buildings.

Liam Phelan

Our tour guide in October was Liam Phelan who explained that the workhouse buildings were so well-preserved because they were used, but not altered, for so long by the creamery and the Co-operative Society. This also explains why the displays of farm machinery and implements fit right in at the workhouse.

Original door to the girls' dormitory

There are several panels throughout the museum that address specific topics related to the workhouse. The one below discusses emigration.

click image to enlarge

Trivia Question

What longtime Donaghmore Creamery employee and current Rathdowney resident was also a member of the 1949 All-Ireland Leinster Hurling Championship and All-Ireland runner-up teams?

The first person to leave a comment with the correct answer will win a special prize!

For more information on workhouses:

All photographs taken by Regan McCormack, October 2011.


Author: Aine

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My heritage pretty much covers the map of Ireland: great-great-grandparents from Cork (Crowley, Foley, Regan), a great-great-grandmother from Clare (Quinn), a great-great-grandfather from Fermanagh (McMahon) and his wife's parents from Mayo (McAndrew), a great-grandmother from Connemara (Hannon) married to my great-grandfather from Laois (McCormack), great-grandparents from Sligo (Flannery), and a great-grandmother from Kildare (Hill). All of those people ended up in Minnesota, where my four grandparents were born. Three and four generations after my people left Ireland for America, I retain all Irish heritage. So much for the melting pot...

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