Ballinrobe Union Workhouse was erected in 1840 on a six-acre site on the Kilmaine Road. The cost of the building amounted to £7,000 while the value of the fittings came to £1,400.
It was designed by the British architect George Wilkinson in the ‘Domestic Gothic’ style.
It could accommodate up to 800 people, and the first admissions were made on the 26th of May 1842.
At the peak of the Great Famine, the workhouse tried to admit people three times the amount it could cater for.
As a result, the conditions severely deteriorated. Some fever sheds were erected to relief dying people and burial pits were dug at the back of the workhouse.
The old Charter School and other buildings around Ballinrobe provided shelter for the overflow of paupers.
Hundreds of people died weekly and only on a later date a hospital was erected.
In 1851 the Mercy Sisters took over the workhouse and the inmates’ conditions improved in term of better medical care, better food and recreational time.
During the War of Independence and the following Civil War the Republicans occupied the workhouse.
Afterwards they ordered to burn to the ground the buildings for fear of the Free State Army’s arrival.
The horrified locals tried to prevent the burning of the workhouse and the desecration of the chapel.
The paupers still housed in the workhouse were moved to the County Home in Castlebar.
Nowadays only the administration block is still in existence, and a simple headstone marks the resting place of thousands of Ballinrobe’s poor.
Recently the local Writers’ Group created a wildflower garden around the old burial pits in memory of those who died at the workhouse.