Workhouse records

This guide was last updated in 2009

The struggle to survive the harsh living conditions of the Dublin tenements, with mortality rates akin to the slums of Calcutta, meant that many Dubliners entered the workhouse. 

The workhouse provided health care to the sufferers of TB and other diseases as well as maternity and psychiatric care. Conditions in the workhouse were usually no better than those in the city slums.

Death certificates often recorded the place of death as NDU or SDU, which refers to the North or South Dublin Poor Law Union Workhouse. If you come across this address on a death certificate then there should be a record of them entering the workhouse. Even if they died at home or in another institution they may have entered the workhouse for assistance.

The National Archives of Ireland hold the admission and discharge registers for the North and South Dublin Union Workhouses (NAI/BG/78 and NAI/BG/79).  The collection dates from 1839 and each book (covering a six month period) is indexed alphabetically, so it is easy to search for admissions under a particular surname.

The admission record includes the date of admission, name, address, occupation, age and sex of the patient as well as the name of the spouse, if not admitted to the workhouse, and then notes on the condition of the patient. The date of discharge is recorded at the end of the entry and may state whether the patient died or was sent to another institution. 

It is important to note that some patients were admitted years before they were discharged or died, so you may need to search a number of books. 

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