In County Mayo following the 1838 Irish Poor Law Act, five Unions were created. Each of them had to maintain a workhouse where local paupers could be fed and housed. A Board of Guardians, numbering around 30 members, managed them.
The workhouses were based in Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Swinford and Westport.
During the Famine workhouses soon became overcrowded and many paupers were rejected. In 1849 it was established to build new workhouses in Belmullet, Killala, Claremorris and Newport.