Old workhouse now a business enterprise hub

ENNISKILLEN’s workhouse has been revamped to become a new business enterprise hub and heritage centre.
The workhouses were set up to home those who had fallen to destitution but controversy has surrounded them as families were split up, regimes of cruelty towards inmates and children being sent away to Canada and Australia to be placed with ‘new families’.
Enniskillen’s own workhouse opened on December 1, 1845 – less than three months after the great famine had struck Ireland which led to many throwing themselves at the mercy of workhouses across the nation.
More than 10,000 people entered the Enniskillen workhouse during that period which came to be known as An Gorta Mor with one in five people in the town dying of starvation.
Today is a different story with the Grade B2 listed entrance block was redeveloped with a £2.3m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Catherine Scott, from Fermanagh County Museum, insists that while the Famine years were important, the other years of the workhouse’s history were just as fascinating.
She said: “At this time of year, the bell would have sounded at seven o’clock in the morning for the inmates to get up, to eat, time obviously then to pray, for the children to go to school, and also then to signal different stages throughout the day.
“Who opened the door, who sounded off the bell, who wore the shoes?” she said.
“I think that’s the rather exciting thing about the building being reopened is that their stories, their lives, the sounds of their voices, hopefully will be able to be heard again. We just need to listen.
“The people who find themselves dispossessed of everything that they own, and in the workhouse system and how society treated them – all sorts of stories will be told now that the workhouse is open.”
The main workhouse was demolished in 1964 and the entrance block became part of the Erne Hospital.
After the hospital closed 10 years ago, the workhouse building was identified as being at risk and in need of urgent repair.
It is now part of the South West College Enniskillen Campus.
Dr Nicholas O’Shiel South West College Governing Body Chairman said: “The skill, passion and determination of the students involved in the redevelopment of the Enniskillen Workhouse is clearly evident in the results which are nothing short of astonishing.
“Our students have used and further developed their existing skills, honed new skills and have showcased an unwavering commitment to achieving the highest possible standards in their craft.”
Angela Lavin, Senior Investment Manager at The National Lottery Heritage Fund added: “Thanks to National Lottery players, this project provides students with the opportunity to not only learn about heritage, but to become truly involved in it by learning new skills and contributing to the redevelopment of Enniskillen Workhouse.
“We know that giving people a chance to have a closer understanding and relationship to their heritage reaps many benefits, and is something we are proud to fund. We wish the students every success in the future as they continue to put their heritage skills into practice.”

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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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