Capturing the world with Photography, Painting and Drawing

Callan, Kilkenny. Remembering the Workhouse and Cherryfields Grave yard.

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0007
Cherryfields, Grave yard for the poor of the Callan workhouse.
Photography : Nigel Borrington

Remembering the Workhouse and its uncounted and unnamed dead.

During the years between 1841 and 1922 the Callan workhouse operated as a place to house and offer support to may of the poor and fallen people who lived in the surrounding areas.

I want to share here some images and facts about both the workhouse and the associated grave yard that is located just one kilometre south of the town of Callan.

Both these site still exist today and a visit to them is both very moving and haunting.

The Workhouse now operates as a home for people with special needs and many feel that this is a great outcome considering its original use and its history.

A visit to Cherryfields Grave yard is very moving, I have included some written details below with some recent images, the thing that personally hits me the most about this place is that no one knows how many people lay at rest here as there is not one single name to be found anywhere.

My final Gallery at the bottom of the post reflects on the contrast between cherryfields and other local grave yards, where all the graves are marks with stones, the only technical difference being the level of finance you or your family possessed.

The Callan Work house

Callan Workhouse map osi maps

The Callan Union of workhouses was situated partly in Co Kilkenny and partly in Co Tipperary. It comprised an area of 106,633 statute acres with a population of 42,707.

The Callan workhouse was contracted for on May 29, 1840 and was completed in 1841.

The management of the workhouse was as follows: Master, matron, clerk chaplain, schoolmaster, porter.

It cost £5,500 to build and $1,140 to fit out. The entire complex, situated at the south end of the town, covered an area of six and a quarter acres. It was built to accommodate 600 people and its first admission took place on March 25, 1842.

Thirty-three Poor Law Guardians, elected from various areas in the Union, had overall responsibility for the workhouse.

In its first years of operation, the Callan Workhouse functioned very well, but the catastrophe of the Great Famine (1845-48) totally overwhelmed it, reducing its functions to utter chaos.
Callan workhouse 2010 2

Built, as mentioned to accommodate 600 people, it had at the height of the Famine thousands of unfortunates clamouring for admittance. Even by 1851 it was still crammed to over capacity. The census for that year lists 2,102 people as residing in it.

The statistics for the Famine in the Callan area are grim and mind-boggling. Between 1841 and 1851 a total of 1,411 people, 688 males and 723 females, died in Callan Workhouse, and 2,104, 1,050 males and 1,054 females died in the temporary fever sheds, a grand total of 3,515 people. These virtually all died during the years of 1846 to 1850.

Callan workhouse 2003 1

After the famine years, the workhouse settled back into a more normal level of operation and continued to function right up until the 1920s. In 1922 it was garrisoned by Free State troops during the Civil War.

It was later sold to private individuals and public bodies.

CherryFields Grave Yard

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0001

on approaching Cherryfields – Callan, A plaque on a pillar at the graveyard reads: In memory of the uncounted victims of famine and poverty buried here, most of whom died in Callan Workhouse 1841-1922. The Plaque was erected in 1986 by Callan Heritage Society.

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0006

The now disused burial ground is the resting place of those who died in Callan Workhouse and who had no family or friends to claim them.

It is located in a remote one and a quarter acre site about one and a half miles south-east of the town off the Clonmel Road in the townland of Baunta Commons.

Callan Cherryfields map osi maps

Because cherries grew three in times gone by it is still popularly known as Cherryfield.
Most of those buried in Cherryfield were victims of the Great Hunger which devastated Ireland during the 1840s. The Callan area of Co Kilkenny was severely affected by this catastrophe.

Tales have been passed down about the endless procession of funerals from the Workhouse. It is said that often up to six bodies at a time were carted out for burial, and that it was not uncommon for corpses to fall off the ‘funeral cart’ because the boreen into Cherryfield was so rough and muddy.

Originally it was intended to have a ‘pauper’s graveyard’, as the terminology of the time called it, located in less remote place as Lord Clifden proposed, but because Baunta Commons consisted of large areas of poor agricultural common land there was little problem in acquiring a cheap site.

The graveyard was crudely fenced off for many years but was fully enclosed by a wall in the 1860s. A substantial gate and entry piers were also erected at that time.


Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0005

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0004

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0003

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0002

Callan Cherryfields Graveyard _0008

Contrast of Cherryfields to other local Grave yards

The surrounding areas of south Kilkenny, contain many old grave yards all of which are wonderful to visit, they hold great records of the people who lived locally and now rest in these places.

Callan Local Marked Graves 4

Callan Local Marked Graves 1

Callan Local Marked Graves 2

Callan Local Marked Graves 3

15 responses

  1. Beautiful images and a lovely tribute Nigel. : )))

    June 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    • Hello Anne 🙂 🙂

      Thank you !!!!

      Very pleased you liked it and thank you for your comment 🙂 🙂 🙂

      June 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm

  2. Such a great post, reminding us of our own fortune, regardless of where we think we are in life. We have been blessed with so much and, for these souls who lost everything including their lives, this post serves as a reminder of their lives and passing. I am sure these grounds find themselves visited by more than mortal flesh far more frequently than is witnessed.

    Thank You for this Lovely Blessing this morning 🙂

    June 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    • Hello Morgan 🙂 🙂

      What a great comment – thank you 🙂 🙂

      I am sure that many memories still hold fast to this story and to the physical reminders left behind !!!

      June 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

  3. Incredibly sad story, which I imagine few outside the specific area have much knowledge of. Thanks for the detailed history.

    June 12, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    • Hello Alli 🙂 🙂

      It a pleasure to share , I think your right , in that not many do – The devil is in the detail as they say !!!

      Thank you , very pleased you enjoyed the post and commented 🙂 🙂 🙂

      June 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm

  4. History and detailed photo documentation, excellent work, Nigel.

    June 12, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    • Hello 🙂 🙂

      Thank you very pleased that you enjoyed 🙂 🙂 🙂

      June 13, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  5. Thank you for bringing to light a piece of history I was unaware of before today. Heartbreaking.

    June 12, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    • Hello Elen 🙂 🙂

      Lovely comment Elen 🙂 , Thank you !!!!!

      June 13, 2014 at 2:27 pm

  6. This is so difficult to read about, always. On our last trip to Ireland I finally found a “famine graveyard” and made it a point of the trip to visit and take food and water. It horrifies me what was done to the people of Ireland.

    June 13, 2014 at 12:38 am

  7. M-R

    This is an article for an historical magazine, Nigel ! – it’s too good for the transience of a blog post … You have become an historian for your country, and especially this area. I congratulate you very sincerely !

    June 13, 2014 at 12:52 am

    • Hello M.

      Thank you , I just love exploring past time I guess and there is plenty of it around these parts 🙂 🙂 🙂

      June 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm

  8. Thank you for this information.
    My grandchildren’s 4xgreat grandmother lived in this workhouse in 1849. I don’t know how long she was there before that but was probably born in Co Tipperary. In 1949, when she was 15, Winifred Connelly was selected with other young girls to be sent to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme. This must have been a dreadful time in Ireland and it was wicked how the landlords and government treated the poor.
    Winifred worked for an Irish shoemaker in Melbourne and in 1852 she married Michael Murray, also from Ireland.
    They traveled to the Ballarat goldfields and raised a large family. Winifred’s portrait is in a montage of Ballarat Women Pioneers in the Gold Museum in Ballarat. She was a brave women, having sheltered Peter Lalor in her tent after the Eureka Rebellion.
    Rosalie Darby

    May 23, 2015 at 8:24 am

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