There were 163 workhouses built in Ireland from 1840 to 1858, the single biggest building project undertaken in Ireland ever. The workhouse system, which basically provided work to those in dire poverty in return for food, so as to avoid death by starvation, was an English solution to an Irish problem. It failed!
The Portumna Workhouse opened in 1852. It operated as a workhouse from the time it opened until the early part of the twentieth century. All seven workhouse buildings are intact. The Irish Workhouse Centre at Portumna is dedicated to telling the story of the Irish Workhouse and giving people an insight into what life in a workhouse was like. Visitors are guided through the original workhouse buildings and view a short film on life in the workhouse.