The Cesspool and refractory wards - your Irish ancestor's experience in the workhouse system
The cesspool and refractory wards in Portumna Workhouse girls' yard. The flatbed, stone cells to the right were used as a method of discipline and solitary confinement. Sometimes a withdrawal of food or milk was added alongside this confinement. In Ballinasloe Union Workhouse, these cells were known as 'the black hole'.
They were small, damp, dark rooms with no access to the yard toilet and sometimes a blanket or sheet was provided for the pauper, sometimes not. This was another means of making sure that only the most desperate entered the workhouse