Saturday, 5 January 2013

Ballymena Workhouse

Ballymena Workhouse

I have never had the opportunity of seeing any of the records of Ballymena Workhouse but by chance came across a section of its Admissions Register which has been transcribed by Bill Macafee and which is on his website. He transcribed the seven week period from 13 May to 8 July 1847 which was of course at the height of the famine years, 1845-1848, and which followed a very severe winter in 1846/7. Many families must have been in desperate straights at that time, including one must imagine a McIlhagga family, for three siblings were admitted on 14th June that year, two girls and a boy. The elder girl was Barbara aged 13. Her sister was Jenny aged 12 and their young brother was David aged 3 (whose surname is mistranscribed or misrecorded as McIhhagga). Presumably they had arrived together though the registration number of the boy is somewhat 'earlier' that that of the two girls (4520, 4538, 4539), maybe because for admission purposes the sexes were dealt with separately.

Very little detail is recorded about these children, with no date or place of birth and no parents' names, which adds to my frustration in not being able to fit them into a known family. I have no births recorded for their probable birth years, for David 1844, Barbara 1834 or Jenny 1835. The fact that for each their religion is recorded as 'unknown' is no help, and the Electoral Division from which they came, namely 'Slemish' isn't much help either. Slemish is adjacent to and roughly east of Broughshane and I know of no McIlhagga family in that area in the 1840s.

There are two desperately sad facts in these Workhouse records which help us to imagine the plight of these children. The reason for their admission in each case is given as 'deserted'. Whether their desertion was deliberate or not we do not know. It is possible that their parents could have died of starvation in the famine, though more likely could not feed all the members of a large family. It is possible that to aid the survival of other children these three had to be abandoned. It is likely that they were all very sick, for the other sad fact that is recorded is the reason why two of them were 'discharged'. David was 'discharged' dead on 24 September 1847. He had been in the Workhouse for 2.75 months. Barbara was 'discharged' dead on 18th July 1848, having been there for 13 months. Just as I have no other record of any of their births or indeed their baptisms, neither do I have any other records of their deaths or burials.

The third child, Jenny was in the Workhouse for the slightly longer period of 23 months and happily she was 'discharged' alive on 11 May 1849. She would probably have been 14 years of age by then, and possibly some form of employment had been arranged for her, perhaps domestic service, though again I have to say that I have no other records from which I can with certainty trace what subsequently happened to her, though in the Irish records on there is one Jenny who died in 1876 in Ballymena who could well be the same person. Her recorded age at death was 35, giving her a birth year of 1841. If she was the same person she would of course have been 41 years old.

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