The preservation of the records of the local Unions throughout Ireland has been a rather haphazard process. When the Poor Law system was replaced in the Free State no provision existed to preserve its records since the Public Record Office in Dublin was concerned only with the records of central government. As a result the extent of preservation of records is very variable across the country.
There is no Poor Law Union for which all the possible categories of record described below are preserved. In many cases all that survives are the formal minute books of the Boards of Guardians. In the case of the Dublin Unions the records did make their way into the National Archives. In many cases outside Dublin the records simply remained in the old workhouse, usually now a hospital, or fell into the hands of private individuals. Those which suffered the latter fate had diverse histories. Some were lost or destroyed while others made their way into public institutions.
The Poor Law records for Mayo during the Famine years, for instance, are now in the National Library of Ireland. Most Poor Law records are now in county libraries or archives or, in the case of Northern Ireland, in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast. Some may still remain in private hands. There is no comprehensive finding list as to the present location of Poor Law records but the locations of those for the Famine years are given in Deirdre Lindsay and David Fitzpatrick, Records of the Irish Famine: a guide to local archives, 1840-1855 (Dublin, 1993), pp 1-29.
The types of records which the Poor Law system generated can be roughly divided into two classes. First, there were the records relating to the workings of the Boards of Guardians and their relations with the Poor Law Commissioners and secondly there were the records generated by the day-to-day business of operating the Union at local level.
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