13 Aug 2022

Trip Through Time: A poem about Dundalk Workhouse during Famine Times

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: A poem about Dundalk Workhouse during Famine Times

My good friend Noel Sharkey from Blackrock has very kindly sent me a previously unpublished poem which very much relates to the 'Ragged School' in Dundalk in the wake of the Great Famine.

It is about the fate of the inmates of the Rath Workhouse during the cholera outbreak of 1848.

Interestingly, there is a memorial in the Old Haggardstown Graveyard, off the Golf Links Road, to a Dr. Lawrence Martin, who died, aged just 32, from typhus 'while ministering the needs of those afflicted' by this epidemic.

Noel, himself has written about this man and the affection in which he seems to have been held in the district.

The poem is called--

At the Workhouse Gates, Rath, 1848

So it was your fate –
When all's said and done.
Left to die at this gate –
Some mother's daughter or son.

Another name written in the log –
Someone of no fixed abode,
Who died like a dog
At the side of the road.

With dropsy, foetid breath,
and your belly distended.
As you went down to death –
Such was how your life ended.

And your broken body buried in haste
As soon as it was found –
Now lying in a briar-covered waste
In this plot of Workhouse ground.

In relation to this poem Noel notes - 'We find in the Workhouse minutes in the last week of April 1848, six people, four of them women, Catherine McEneaney, Anne Callan, Mary King and Bridget Gorman, were all left in carts at the Workhouse entrance in a 'dying state', as were Owen Kinahan and 75 year old Bernard Hughes'.

This does not say if any of these were children - but, apart from Hughes, could they have been young?

Three generations of service to the community
In the piece I wrote last week about the public protest in July 1971 by the residents of Dowdallshill over the traffic congestion at Dowdallshill it is mentioned that the local Amenities Group was presided over by Diarmuid Ó Coalin, N.T.,Chairman of the Dundalk Urban Council.

Further on a extract from the Dundalk Democrat mentions that Mr. Ó Caolain, Fianna Fail, had just been elected for the second year in succession as Chairman of the Dundalk Council. Diarmuid Ó Caolain was a resident of Dowdallshill and Principal of the Point Road National Primary School for a number of years.

By co-incidence, his grandson Conor Keelan, has just been elected Chairman of the Louth County Council for the first time. Diarmuid's son Seamus Keelan, father of Conor, was also a prominent member of the Dundalk Urban Council and the Louth County Council for a number of years. Seamus was also elected Chairman of the Dundalk Council several times.

How's that for generations of service to the community?

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