County Home, Cavan, Co. Cavan, Republic of Ireland

The Cavan County Home had its roots in the Cavan Union Workhouse, erected in 1841-2 on a nine-acre site a mile on Cathedral Road, to the north of Cavan town. Like almost all Irish workhouses, the original buildings were designed by George Wilkinson. There was a small entrance block, nearest to the road. The three-storey main accommodation block had the Master and Matron's's quarters at the centre, with male and female wings to each side. A single-storey range containing the kitchen, bakehouse and laundry then linked via the dining-hall and chapel to the infirmary and 'idiots wards' at the rear of the complex. The buildings were intended to accommodate up to 1,200 inmates. In 1847, a fever hospital was erected at the south-west of the site. The workhouse graveyard lay at the north-west of the infirmary.

The Cavan workhouse site is shown on the 1912 map below.

Cavan workhouse site, Cavan, c.1912.

George Wilkinson's model Irish workhouse design. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Cavan workhouse main block from the north, 2002. © Peter Higginbotham

From 1885, the Sisters of Mercy provided the nursing staff in the the fever hospital, and from 1891 in the workhouse infirmary.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, the Boards of Guardians that administered each union area were abolished and the government appointed commissioners to overhaul the existing poor relief system and formulate a county-based plan for its future administration and operation. Boards of Public Assistance and Boards of Health were formed in each county and the existing workhouse sites allocated to new roles. In most cases, the main building in one of the county's former workhouses was adopted as a County Home, accommodating the elderly poor and infirm, the disabled, and people with various mental conditions, referred to at that time as 'lunatics', 'idiots' and 'imbeciles'. County Homes were frequently also used to house unmarried mothers and their children, and some admitted orphaned or abandoned children. Many former workhouse infirmaries, fever hospitals and other medical facilities were redesignated as County, District, Cottage or Fever Hospitals. The county schemes were formalised by Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1923. In County Cavan, the former Cavan workhouse was utilised partly as a County Home and partly as a County Hospital.

A report in 1927 described the operation of establishment under the County Scheme:

The County Home, which is on the ground and first floors of what was known as the body of the workhouse, presented a cheerless appearance and everywhere looked gloomy and cold. The accommodation provided is not, we understand, sufficient in the winter months.

The Medical Hospital section of the building on the top floor was somewhat better than the Home, but is much handicapped by want of a good water supply. One of the wards was devoted to tubercular cases. These cases will, it is hoped, be moved to the new tuberculosis hospital when the alterations are complete. In addition to the aged and infirm and chronic invalids to be provided for in the Home under the Scheme, there were unmarried mothers and children. The accommodation for the last-mentioned classes is only moderately good.

There is a maternity department in connection with the Home and Hospital. It consists of only one ward.

The Fever Hospital is a detached building of ten wards in the grounds of the County Home. There is no proper disinfecting chamber.

The County Scheme abolished the Joint Committee of Management of the County Infirmary. The old Infirmary, on transfer to the Board of Health, was turned into a County Hospital. The building [the former workhouse infirmary] is good structurally and generally in good repair. On the male side the sanitary and bathing accommodation is not good, but somewhat better on the female side. There is a good operation theatre and X-ray apparatus.

This Hospital is conducted entirely as a surgical hospital. There is an extern department which deals with about 1,500 cases in the year.

The accommodation. we are informed. is entirely insufficient for the number seeking admission. There is in consequence a waiting list.

The division of the County Hospital into two parts, under separate management, and the housing of one of these in the same building as the County Home is objectionable, and not in accord with the policy of separating the treatment of the sick from the relief of the other classes of poor.

In December 1927, in an attempt to reduce the cost of supporting unmarried mothers, the county's Board of Health and Public Assistance agreed to write to all the county's T.D.s (parliamentary representatives) and to all the other Boards of Health in the Free State to press for the introduction of legislation allowing affiliation orders to be made by a District Justice against the father of an unmarried mother's child, where he was known.

The unmarried mothers were occupied in the domestic workhouse of the establishment, including its laundry as indicated by a report in April 1928:

The Matron, County Home, reported that for the past month Ellen Melaniphy had taken charge of the laundry and proved most satisfactory. She had worked there for about four years and always took entire charge of it during absence of the laundress, so that she was quite capable of taking charge. She was able to keep the unmarried mothers under perfect control, and there had been no complaint since she took up charge.

In May 1931, one of the mothers, Mary McCabe, and her baby left the home against the Matron's advice. On the same night, she abandoned the baby in an old shed, but it was brought back unharmed to the home on the following days. The mother was arrested and brought before a District Justice, who let her go free. She did not return to the home. The Matron reported that since the event, the other unmarried mothers had been difficult to control.

In June 1933, the Cavan Board of Health decided to petition the government to establish a home for unmarried mothers to serve the counties of Cavan, Longford, Leitrim and Monaghan. Although this did not happen, two years later, in May 1935, the Board considered a request from the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to send 'first time' unmarried mothers to the new mother and baby home at Castlepollard instead of the County Home. The Board concluded that time spent in Castlepollard would be very beneficial to such women and, more importantly, would result in a substantial financial saving for the council. Dispensary medical officers in the county were then notified to send all 'first time' single expectant women to Castlepollard.

In 1951, the county councils of Meath, Westmeath, Cavan, Longford, and Louth formed a consortium to open a new mother and baby home, which opened at Dunboyne in 1955. The Cavan County Home then stopped being used for this purpose. At around the same time, the County Home/Hospital site was renamed St Felim's Hospital.

St Felim's was closed in 2003 and the site was put up for sale in 2019.

Records

Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Cavan County Library, Farnham Street, Cavan, Co. Cavan. Record relating to the County Home include: Boards of Health and Public Assistance minute books (1921-42); Reports on patients (August 1930 - May 1931); Cavan County Home and Hospitals Provisions and Necessaries Consumption Account (1932-47).
    Workhouse records include: Board of Guardians' minutes (1845-1920); Indoor admission and discharge book (1881-84).

Bibliography