Swinford Famine and Paupers Graves

Swinford Tidy Towns began restoring the Swinford Famine & Paupers Graves in 2013.

Swinford Famine Plot. Mass Famine Grave.

Swinford Famine Plot. Mass Famine Grave.

One of the many projects ongoing by Swinford Tidy Towns is the restoration of Swinford Famine and Paupers Graves. The Famine plot was originally restored in the 1960’s. The Paupers Graveyard was restored in the early 1990’s by a local Fás team. The Famine Plot which is located at the rear of Swinford District Hospital is currently maintained by the HSE. The Paupers Graveyard fell back into disrepair in the early 2000’s unfortunately. Swinford Tidy Towns undertook the restoration of Swinford Famine and Paupers Graves in 2013. Hopefully sometime in the future the local Authority will take over and maintain historical burial grounds in the County.

The Famine and Paupers Graveyards are a part of the popular annual historical walk during Síamsa Sráide by Michael Comer.

History of Swinford Famine & Paupers Graveyards

Swinford Workhouse

When the Swinford Union was formed in 1840 the assistant commissioner Joseph Bourke acquired six acres of land for £18.00 annual rent from William Brabazon. The new workhouse, built in 1840-42, occupied a 6-acre site on the southern side of Barrack Street to the east of the town. It was designed to hold 700 inmates and its construction cost £7,100 plus £1,300 for fixtures and fittings etc. It was declared fit for the admission of paupers on 30th November 1842 but did not admit its first inmates until 14th April 1846.

Swinford Fever Hospital. (Photo: © Michael Maye 2012)

Swinford Fever Hospital. Restored in early 2000. (Photo: © Michael Maye 2012)


The building was constructed to one of George Wilkinson’s standard designs with an entrance block at the north containing a board-room, offices and a dispensary. Behind this stood the large main block, with women’s accommodation to one side and men’s to the other. At the rear, connected via a central spine, was a infirmary block. To the south of the main workhouse buildings stood a small fever hospital built during the famine in 1847. On the north side of Barrack Street stood the workhouse burial ground. The site layout can be seen on an early Ordnance Survey map, (Click map to view full screen)


Swinford Famine Graveyard map

Swinford Famine Graveyard map (1859)

Note on the map above. Main street in Swinford today was called Market street and Bridge Street and Dublin road were both called Barrack Street in the 1800’s. What is called Market street today, used to be called Chapel Street. That can sometimes cause confusion!

Michael Davitt at Swinford Workhouse

Michael Davitt at Swinford Famine workhouse

Michael Davitt 1846-1906

One of the more famous people to pass through the workhouse was Michael Davitt, founding member of the National Land League of Ireland. Michael Davitt was born in Straide Co Mayo in March 1846 in the height of the famine. Michael’s parents Martin and Catherine were tenants on the John Knox estate in Straide during the Great Famine. When the family were evicted from the Knox estate in Straide, they traveled to the Workhouse in Swinford. When Catherine discovered on arriving at the workhouse that the children would be separated from them, they left immediately. The couple with their children decided to join the many evicted families emigrating to England, in search of a better life. Martin Davitt got place on a horse and cart for the children with another family from the area travelling to Dublin for the boat. When they arrived in Liverpool they visited with friends before setting out on foot to Haslingden nearly 50 miles away. Haslington was an area of England where locals from the Straide area had already found work.

Swinford Famine plot. Famine Mass grave.

Swinford Famine Plot. Mass Famine Grave. (Photo © Michael Maye 2012)

The following is an extract from an account of what happened in the workhouse at the time;

“On the dreadful 10th November 1846, 120 were admitted beyond the regulated number. Hundreds were refused admission for want of room, some unhappy being pushed on the high roads and in the fields. Influenced by terror and dismay — leaving entire districts almost deserted — the better class of farmers, in numbers, sold their property, at any sacrifice, and took flight to America. And the humbler classes left the country in masses, hoping to find a happier doom in any other region. In this Union 367 persons died in the workhouse; the Master of the workhouse also died.”

The following year, sometimes referred to as “Black ’47”, diseases such as typhus and dysentery took hold in the workhouse, and six hundred bodies were buried in a mass grave. At the 1901 census, the population of the Union was 44,162.

Swinford Famine and Paupers Graveyard

In June 2013 Swinford Tidy Towns undertook the project of restoring the Famine and Paupers Graveyard. Sadly the graveyard fell into disrepair since it was last restored in the 1990’s. Although this project is part of our five year plan work is ongoing and we have made good progress to date (2014).

Swinford Famine and Paupers Graveyard at the beginning of project.

Swinford Famine & Paupers Graveyard at beginning of project. (Photo: © Michael Maye 2012)

As you can see from the photo above the Paupers Graveyard was well overgrown at the start of the project. The overgrowth was over six foot high in places. One of the few marked graves above when reveled was sadly in a poor state of repair. The headstone above is of the grave of Dr Henry. Dr Henry worked in the workhouse during the Famine years. His dying wish was to be buried with the patients he treated during the Famine. His wife is also buried with him here.

rosary in famine graveyard 2014

Rosary in the Famine Graveyard Sunday 30th November 2014.

On Sunday the 30th of November 2014, a Rosary was held in the graveyard. It is planned to have a mass at the site sometime in June 2015. When the date is confirmed we will post here on the website. Edit: Mass was organised to be held in the Graveyard on Bank Holiday Monday 1st of June 2015. Unfortunately due to poor weather on the day it had to be postponed. It is hoped to hold a Mass at the Graveyard sometime in August 2015.

Swinford Famine Plot from Michael Maye on Vimeo.

Famine & Paupers Graveyard Swinford from Michael Maye on Vimeo.

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