Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Category: Seamus O’Brien

Mullingar Famine Graveyard

Mullingar Robinstown Famine Graveyard entrance

The Famine walkers began the fourth day of their journey at the Robinstown famine graveyard in Mullingar.



Former union workhouse graveyard on irregular plan, used between c.1840 and c.1860. Now out of use. Cut stone gateway to the southwest side having a pair of wrought-iron gates. Located to the north of the former Mullingar Union Workhouse complex and to the north of Mullingar.

This graveyard largely contains the marked and unmarked graves of victims of the Great Famine (1845-9) and acts as a poignant reminder of this traumatic event in Irish history. The good quality cut stone gateway to the southwest adds a touch of dignity to this otherwise largely neglected site.





Mullingar Workhouse

Mullingar workhouseAt the end of the third day of the Famine walk the walkers reached Mullingar and visited the Mullingar workhouse. According to Seamus O’Brien, the “Mullingar poor law union was one of the largest in the country. The union workhouse, which was situated on the northern outskirts of Mullingar, admitted its first paupers in December 1842. Designed to accommodate 800 inmates, it struggled to cope with double this number at the height of the Famine” (Carn, Killare: A Forgotten Westmeath Famine Village (Rathlainne Publications, 2000, 9).

The Mullingar workhouse is described in detail by Peter Higginbotham at:

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Mullingar workhouse site, 1914.© Peter Higginbotham.

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Mullingar workhouse site general view, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

Mullingar Workhouse 4

Mullingar entrance block, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

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Mullingar workhouse entrance and date-stone, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

Famine Village Ruins at Carn hill, County Westmeath

Carn hill site of famine village

Carn hill Famine village ruins.

On the third day of the walk the walkers past through the more remote parts of Westmeath along the Royal Canal. In Famine & Community in Mullingar Poor Law Union, 1845-1849. Mud Huts and Fat Bullocks (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999), Seamus O’Brien notes that the villages in the Killare area along this stretch of canal were particularly devastated by the Famine, and that “throughout the union generally the appearance of the population was wretched. Their clothing was in rags” (24). “The biggest losses here occurred,” he adds, “in the southwestern districts of Castletown and Killare where 53 and 40 percent of their respective populations either died or emigrated between 1841 and 1851” (48). Near the Royal Canal are “the ruins of the Famine village on Carn hill and the now fossilized lazy beds which supported it” (56).

Carn famine village fozzilized potato ridges

Carn Famine village fossililzed potato ridges.jpg

In his book Carn, Killare: A Forgotten Westmeath Famine Village (Rathlainne Publications, 2000), Seamus O’Brien this authentic famine ruin. In his own words:

This area of Westmeath belies the usual depiction of the county as a typical part of the central plain of Ireland with its limestone solution lakes, rolling pastureland and extensive raised boglands. The area west of Mullingar is quite hilly. Historic Usnagh hill with the famous “Catstone” erratic on its southern flank, is justifiable the most famous of these limestone hills. Directly opposite Usnagh is Carn hill, a structural limestone fold which has an average elevation of 600 feet above sea level.

Famine village cabins artist rendering.jpg

Famine village cabins, artist rendering.

The Famine village was in a sheltered central location near the summit of the hill… The skeletal remains of the many stone houses still visible on Carn hill today, as well as being evidence of the last and seemingly final human settlement in this area of Westmeath, are a poignant reminder of the economic pressures experienced in this region during the Great Famine” (9-10).

Map of Carn Famine Village near Mullingar

Map of Carn Hill Famine village.