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23 Jun 2017

Armagh’s bilingual heritage walking group enjoyed a fascinating walking tour last week to the site of the old Workhouse at Tower Hill. Led by Cairde Teo Irish language development officer, Seán Ó Maoilsté, the group visited the grounds of the workhouse and infirmary, as well as the two workhouse graveyards, the first located between Tower Hill and St Mark’s Graveyard and the second to the rear of the buildings. Seán explained the history of the workhouse, which was built in 1840 to accommodate 1000 and participants were able to envisage the real history of the workhouse as they viewed the numerous buildings and exercise yards associated with the workhouse.

The front building that sits off the main road at Tower Hill would have been the receiving rooms for new applicants, as well as the site of the clerk’s office, board room and porters’ living quarter on the upper floor. Behind the front building, an enclosed yard was divided up into men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’ yards with a walled passageway connecting it the administration building to the main accommodation. The master and matron would have stayed in the centre on the ground floor with day wards for males and females on either side, with the dormitories on the floors above. An infirmary behind the main building included doctors’ and nurses’ rooms, as well as the male and female wards, and a separate fever hospital was built in 1844. When fever did hit, it swept right through the workhouse and claimed the lives of not only workhouse inhabitants, but also of the medical officer and the master. Hundreds of people were buried in the two graveyards, with 991 recorded during 1847 alone.

Last Thursday’s walk followed on from the Séamus Mór Mac Murchaidh walk, to recall a famous poet and Irish speaker from south Armagh who was hanged in Armagh. The guided walk visited the Hole in the Wall bar, where Séamus was held before being trialled at the old courthouse at Armagh Library. The walk also visited Gallow’s Hill beside St Malachy’s Church, the site of Séamus’ hanging. Next week’s heritage walk will focus on the village of Benburb and the wealth of history associated with the area. The walk will commence at 7pm at the carpark beside Maydown Bridge, which is between Tullysaran and Benburb. The walk will make its way through the forest along the banks of the Blackwater, which is the border between Armagh and Tyrone, and cross over to Benburb Castle and Benburb Priory, before finishing off at the Bottle of Benburb for refreshments.