The somewhat forgotten burial ground, found to the rear of the new Community Hospital of The Assumption, once the infamous Thurles Workhouse has once more been rekindled in our fading memories with the erection of a memorial stone in this cemetery.
The monument was erected by the local Sisters of Mercy Order of Nuns and speaking at a special Mass and blessing, Sr Mary Barry stated on behalf of her Order :-
“On behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, and the Staff of the Community Hospital of The Assumption, I extend a warm welcome to you all. Today, as we gather in the graveyard, we remember and pray for all those who are laid to rest here, down through the years. We trust that this headstone will now become a focal point where we can visit, pray and remember.”
The original old Thurles Union Workhouse, which many Thurles residents will well remember, was originally built in 1840 under plans designed by British Architect, George Wilkinson. The building, built to accommodate 700 paupers, like all such workhouses then erected, had the appearance of being a grim institution, with conditions inside and out, designed to discourage all but the destitute from seeking refuge within. Nevertheless, it made some contribution down through the years, especially to the saving of lives from starvation during that period of Irish history known as the Great Famine years.
Over 15,000 persons were assisted with Indian meal (Ground Maize) in just one week, in 1848 and as many as 3,732 were housed here and in other associated rented buildings in the area in 1850.
We have prepared a short picture video of the event for our readers and we sincerely thank popular local Church musicians Cephas for allowing us to use tracks from their recent charity fund raising CD, copies of which can be still obtained by contacting Telephone 087-6729242
To give us some understanding as to the hardship being experienced, we must look at primary sources still available. In the minutes of the Thurles and Rahealty Famine Food Committee book, presently held at St. Mary’s Church, Thurles we can read a report dated 11th February 1847, sent to the British Association for the Relief of Extreme Distress in Ireland and Scotland, shown here as follows:
“Of the population of the united parishes of Thurles and Rahealty 8,000 are on the relief list. The majority obtain very inadequate relief by employment on Public Works. There are about 300 destitute families having no person to work, to whom gratuitous relief must be given; there are other families varying from 10 to 12 having only one member able to work whose wages 10 pence a day would not be adequate to the support of two persons at the present famine prices of food. The poor house (Hospital of The Assumption) built to accommodate 700 has now stowed within 940 and there cannot be any more admissions and groups who cannot be admitted are to be seen shivering in the cold and wet, anxiously expecting the fragments of cold stirabout that remains after the inmate pauper meal. We have lived to see the poor sitting at the paupers gate among the crumbs that fall from the paupers table. We have not had any deaths from actual starvation but numerous deaths have occurred from severe and long continual privation. The weekly average of deaths has increased fivefold.”
It was not until November 5th 1877 however, that four nuns from the Sisters of Mercy set out from Doon, Co Limerick for Thurles to begin what was to become a long and beneficial association with this hospital. They came not to take charge but to work under the Master and Matron of the Workhouse, Mr and Mrs Pat Russell until 1922, when the Order’s, Sister Ita became the first nun to be appointed Matron. These newly arrived Doon Nuns were soon to raise hygiene standards by cleanliness through the scrubbing of floors etc and bringing about major change through leadership by example through their rolls as workers and carers.
Under the management of Sister Ita the name of the workhouse was changed to The County Home and came under the jurisdiction of Tipperary Co. Council. In 1954 the name was again changed, this time to the Hospital of the Assumption. Flower beds were introduced to enhance its still grim, grey looking appearance, by Sister Baptist and her ‘men’, as she referred to them, latter resident patients. Occupational Therapy for patients was also undertaken by Sister Bonaventure.
In 1960 the Health board under Mr P.J. Flynn took on the responsible for the removal of the high walls, which were in being to keep inmates within the grounds, and these were replaced with railings possibly showing this true building to many outsiders for the first time.
Larry Moloney Clerical officer who died in 1970 was remembered at this event as being of tremendous help to the Mercy order. Mrs Betty Moore was the first matron to be appointed, with no associated with the Sisters of Mercy order since 1922.
In February 2006 the old hospital building was replaced with the new present state of the art Community Hospital, which contains accommodation for 72 patient beds.
The celebration Mass for the memorial ceremony was conducted by celebrant Rev. Fr. Jimmy Donnelly, ably assisted by Rev. Fr. Gerard Hennessey, Bohernanave Parish Church. Music and song for the event was supplied by Michael Molumby and Antonette Ruth with Mary Rose McNally on keyboard.