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Landscape as Witness - Field Trip: Day 33

I had been planning to attend a talk on Co. Clare's workhouses in the Ballyvaughan Community Centre this evening, a topic particularly relevant to my ongoing project. As it was due to finish quite late (at around 21:30), I had booked a taxi to bring me back up to the facility afterwards. The plan for today was to scout out the various famine constructions in and around Ballyvaughan, hopefully getting some useable images if the weather permitted it. I left my bike at the facility due to the fact that I would be getting a taxi later on that day. The walk from Carron to Ballyvaughan was due to take approximately 3.5 hours, but I thought that if I left early enough in the day I would still have plenty of time to explore before the talk began. I had only been walking for about 30 minutes when a car pulled up alongside me, and the couple inside very kindly offered me a lift to Ballyvaughan. They even stopped at the Burren Outdoor Education Centre to allow me to pick up some post, as well as bringing me to visit Corcomroe Abbey en route. The lift was much appreciated, giving me an unprecedented extra 3 hours in Ballvaughan to scout the area.

At first I went about looking for the famine workhouse in the village that was still standing, one that I had visited during my previous trip with Micky Vaughan. I knew the general area that it was in, but I couldn't quite remember its exact location. I called into the house where the owner of the land lived. She told me to follow a track that passed by a number of old houses, and that the famine workhouse itself was right at the back of that communal area. As I made my way up the track I thought that everything would come flooding back to me, but it took longer than I expected to orientate myself. This was probably due to the fact that the area looking completely transformed in the summer months. Eventually I decided that the shed at the back to the left was the building that I had visited previously. Seeing that the shed was in use, I decided to call into one of the local houses just to make sure that I was able to access it.

The man staying there informed me that he had always thought that the workhouse was located to the right of the shed, in what was now an orchard. He led me over to it, saying that he knew the owner of the land well and that he would have no problem with me having a look around. Upon seeing the construction for the first time, there seemed to be no doubt that this indeed was the famine workhouse. Its construction was very plain, and seemed unusually long. The building was split up into two sections, with a fireplace remaining intact in each of them. The man informed me that his landlord might know more about the subject, and brought me back to the house to see her.

One of the buildings that the landlord owned used to be the soup kitchen during the time of the famine, and the adjoining building later became the priest's house. She kindly showed me around each building, highlighting how it still maintained the majority of its original construction. As well as this, she was able to recommend some people near Fanore that might be able to assist me. Although knowing the specifics of her own buildings, she admitted that the exact whereabouts of the famine workhouse was very much up for debate. She suggested visiting a woman across the road who might have a better idea, although warned me that it was difficult to separate fact and fiction while discussing an event that happened so long ago.

This person was able to tell me that what was now known as the 'Sheds' (the building that I had previously visited with Micky Vaughan) may have been come sort of community hall that was connected to the workhouse, and that the long building on the right would have been the workshouse itself. She said that she always felt incredibly uncomfortable whenever she visited it, stating that she could almost feel the spirits walking around her. With all signs pointing towards this long building , I decided to call back once the weather had deteriorated slightly, as the blue skies had been persisting for most of the day up until then.

I made my way the Burren College of Art as there was an exhibition showing there that I had been intending to visit at some point during my field trip, Early Marks by Keith Payne. It is "...a study of the beginnings of art and possible source of a prehistoric worldwide visual language through large-scale paintings and sculptures...", and I'd highly recommend dropping in to have a look at it if you're around the area ( On my way back to Ballyvaughan, the local taxi driver saw me and kindly gave me a lift back to the village free of charge.

That evening, the talk on the Clare workhouses was fascinating to say the least. Although I had previously known some basic information relating to them, I acquired an enormous amount of knowledge over that hour and a half. The man giving the talk (Steve Dolan) was the manager of the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna, and was able to go into great detail regarding the constructions. Only those who were poor enough were admitted into the workhouses. Upon arrival, their clothes were tossed into a fire and they were given plain uniforms to wear. This did little to prevent any sickness spreading, as disease was rife due to the constructions' poor ventilation systems. The inmates had to live within the confines of the workhouse, with separate sections for men, women, boys, and girls. Women were allowed to stay with their children up until the age of 3, but after that they were only allowed to visit them briefly in the morning and in the evening. During the day, the children that were too young to work were looked after by the matriarch. One particularly horrifying fact I discovered was that the majority of the people who died at workhouses were buried on site in a mass grave. I could go on, but I think it would be best to create a separate post on the talk itself to discuss the subject further.

Before attending the talk I had gone back to the site of the workhouse to photograph it, as the day had now become grey and overcast. On my way to the orchard, I bumped into the landlord once more. Upon hearing that I was planning on photographing the construction, she proceeded to tell me various stories relating to it that she had heard during her time in the area. The previous owner of her house was a medium and a friend of hers. Once she was awoken in the middle of night by the sound of a woman wailing and a baby crying. She woke up her husband, who hadn't heard anything at all. They both got up and searched the area, but nothing was found. She also informed me that a healer had once visited the site of the workhouse in an attempt to take away the sadness and darkness from the area. While doing so she had seen a small child sitting at one of the windows, staring out at her.

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