The poor law came into effect in Ireland with the Poor Law Act of 1838 and remained in existence until 1923. The country was divided into poor law unions each with its own workhouse. There were three such unions in county Louth: Ardee, Drogheda (sometimes called the Louth union) and Dundalk. The unions were run by a board of guardians - some elected, some appointed from among local magistrates - under the close supervision of the Poor Law Commissioners, and after 1872, the Local Government Board. A rate or 'poor rate' was collected within each area or union from property owners for the maintenance of the poor. In the 1850s, the poor law guardians became responsible for public health; in the 1860s, the boarding out of children; rural housing from 1883; and rural sanitation from 1874-1899.
Control of the poor law guardians was achieved partly through record keeping and partly through inspection, thus resulting in the creation of large quantities of archives, the most voluminous of which are the minute books: an almost complete run from July 1839 - April 1924 exists for Dundalk poor law union, along with other miscellaneous poor law archives; an almost complete run exists for Ardee poor law union (there are a few volumes in private hands); and a quantity of minutes exist for Drogheda poor law union (the remainder of the surviving minutes are in Millmount Museum, Drogheda). The guardians were obliged to send returns to the central authority; however, many of these were destroyed in the Custom House in 1921, while other poor law union archives were destroyed down through the years. Subsequent to 1923, many of the workhouses became county homes or hospitals, as in the case of Ardee and Drogheda.
The poor law archives are an invaluable research resource for local historians, students and genealogists and by having the three unions of County Louth accessible together in the County Archives Service, their research value is enhanced as researchers can cross-reference. The archives cover the period from famine through to independence and provide information on the social and economic conditions of the poor law unions.
For the Board of Guardians descriptive list, go to the 'Advanced Search' tab on the 'Search' page of our online catalogue and type in the collection code BG/ into the 'Reference' field and click 'search'. Your results will contain the list of archives for the three poor law unions in Louth.
- To see Ardee poor law union's only, type in BG/ARD/
- To see Dundalk poor law union's only, type in BG/DDK/
- To see Drogheda poor law union's only, type in BG/DRO/