The newly digitized minute book for the charitable trust that ran the widows’ homes in Thurles is a valuable genealogical resource for those researching the stories of the widows, the members of the board of trustees, and the many tenants that lived on the Stanwix estate south of Thurles.
The minute book for the committee that managed the widows’ almshouses in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, has been recently digitized by Tipperary Studies and is now available to view for free online. These records cover the period from 1890 to 1930.
Further on in this guide, we’ll explain how to effectively harness the potential of these original records as a useful genealogical resource. Scroll down to find out if these records could help you trace your family history.
Stanwix Hospital and Almshouses
Absentee English landlord Emma Slaughter Stanwix, owner of a large estate in the parish of Moycarky, south of Thurles, died in 1857. Her will stipulated that rent collected from the Stanwix estate’s tenants would finance the building and running of a hospital and an almshouse for widows in Thurles.
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The will further states that the hospital should cater for those with incurable diseases (excluding fever and epidemic patients) or who had suffered accidents, while the almshouse would be used for
“poor old Widows, aged more than sixty; and that persons living on my own estate shall always have preference over any other applicants, without any distinction of religion.”
After the loss of their husbands, it was not uncommon for grieving widows to be evicted from their holdings or properties; added to this, they had no pensions and few had any means of making money.
It took over 30 years for Emma Stanwix’s plans to be realized. Designed by Albert E. Murray, a terrace of 18 redbrick cottages in Arts and Crafts style with half-timbered finishes was erected between 1889 and 1898. They were known colloquially as “the Widows’ Homes” and provided sheltered accommodation for women for 130 years.
As well as the cottages, a larger two-storey building with a small spire attached to the north side of the terrace was constructed to serve as a hospital; however, it never operated as such due to the ample hospital facilities available in Thurles by the late 19th century. Instead, this building served various functions over the years, including as a meeting space for the board of trustees that administered the almshouses.
All 19 buildings can still be seen off Kickham Street (formerly Pike Street) on the eastern side of Thurles town, a rare survival of an intact group of 19th-century almshouses.
Using the minute book as a genealogical aid
The board of trustees that administered the charitable Stanwix Trust held meetings regularly, sometimes up to six times a year though typically less often as time progressed. The minutes taken at these meetings were fairly brief, but they give us an invaluable insight into the workings of the almshouses and the board itself. The finances, in particular, were diligently detailed.
The 365-page minute book has been divided into four parts:
Each part can be viewed in a tab in your browser or can be downloaded as a PDF to your device. All four parts can be accessed here (simply click on the image of the book for the part you wish to view).
Please note that the text of the minute book has not been transcribed, making searching for information regarding specific individuals more difficult. Nonetheless, these are good-quality scans displaying fairly legible handwriting. So if you’re interested in a particular period, a quick scan through the relevant part of the minute book in which the dates of the meetings are clearly labelled should not prove overly time-consuming.
This wonderful resource doesn’t just provide information about the widows that lived in the almshouses but also the trustees of the charity and the employees, volunteers and contractors of the trust, as well as the tenants of the nearby Stanwix estate. Find out what genealogical information can be gleaned from the minute book for each group below.
– The inmates of the Stanwix Almshouses (the widows)
The minute book, which refers to the widows admitted to the Stanwix Almshouses as “inmates”, helps paint a fairly vivid picture of life in this institution. The trustees took turns selecting widows as candidates for residency in the almshouses, with all nominations meticulously documented in the minute book.
It lists the name of each nominated widow, along with her age and address, and on rare occasions, her deceased husband’s name and profession. The stated age is likely to be fairly accurate as from June 1896, any newly nominated widows were expected to provide proof of age via a parochial or other certificate. Because priority was given to widows from the Stanwix estate, the nomination occasionally states if the widow lived or was born on the estate.
All of this is important genealogical data that can lead to further avenues of research by cross-checking civil records, church records, valuation records, census records and newspaper reports. Sometimes only the initials of inmates or patients residing in institutions, workhouses and some hospitals are listed in census returns, but we are fortunate that full names were recorded for the women living in the almshouses in Thurles in the 1901 census and 1911 census. Interestingly, one of the widows listed in the 1911 census, Emma Thompson, was born in Canada.
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The widows’ accommodation was free and according to the Irish Builder (1 Jun. 1890), each inmate had two rooms and a yard. We can see from the minute book that the widows received a weekly stipend of 10 shillings, as well as an extra 5 shillings every year at Christmas and Easter and on 21 January and 28 November (these additional gratuities four times a year were discontinued from April 1924). In a meeting of the trustees in late 1897, it was decided that the weekly stipend would be reduced to 8 shillings for all new inmates. From the 1920s, further reductions affected some of the widows who were in receipt of the old age pension.
Occasionally, the precise date on which an inmate died is recorded in the minute book. For example, in the header of the second page of minutes for the meeting dated 23 February 1920, it is recorded that Mrs Quinn died on 23 April 1920 and Mrs Maher died on 6 May 1920 (these notes were added after this meeting and presumably on/before the next meeting which was held on 11 May 1920).
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By cross-checking the civil records available for free on the IrishGenealogy.ie website, we uncovered more about these two women. The death returns indicate that Margaret Quinn, widow of a school teacher, died aged 77 from “senile decay” and “heart disease”, while Ellen Maher, a farmer’s widow, died at the age of 86 from “senile decay”. Both deaths occurred in the Stanwix Almshouses.
More commonly, the death of an inmate is noted in the nomination for her replacement, but the precise date of death is not typically given.
For example, the minutes of the meeting dated 24 April 1893 state that 70-year-old Cathrine Cormack of Knockire was elected to fill the vacancy caused by Mrs Ryan’s death; though a note in the margin, evidently added later, indicates that Mrs Cormack “declined to come”. The previous meeting had taken place on 27 February 1893, so we can assume that Mrs Ryan died at some point between these two meetings. By checking the death returns on IrishGenealogy.ie, we discovered that 78-year-old Mary Ryan died of “old age” in the almshouse on 25 March 1893.
On occasion, a sick inmate was removed from the almshouse. This treatment by the trustees could be extremely harsh. Seventy-year-old Mary Fennelly was nominated in January 1899, but a sad entry regarding this inmate in the minutes of the meeting dated 13 November 1899 reads:
“Ordered that Mrs Fennelly’s friends be requested to remove her. As from the beginning she was a confirmed invalid and at no time a fit subject for this institution. Unless removed at once the trustees will have her sent to the workhouse hospital here without further notice.”
We can see from her death record – available on IrishGenealogy.ie – that Mary Fennelly died in the workhouse a few months later, on 7 February 1900; the causes of death are listed as paraplegia and asthenia.
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A special meeting of the trustees of the Stanwix charity was called on 16 July 1897 to consider the case of Mrs Margaret Honard from Cashel, who the doctor recommended should be sent to an asylum on account of her being deemed “a lunatic dangerous to herself and others”. Sadly, it was agreed unanimously that she would be removed.
From the outset, the trustees devised a set of rules for the inmates, which were approved by the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests. A copy of the rules hung in each inmate’s room (many of the inmates would have been illiterate, as we can see was the case in later census returns). One of the rules stated that all inmates had to be in their houses by 10 pm from May to October and by 6 pm in winter, while visitors were permitted between 11 am and 4 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays only. The rules are listed in full in an excellent article on the almshouses by Fr George Bourke here.
When the matron of the almshouses reported an inmate for breaking a rule, that inmate could be called in front of the board of trustees to be reprimanded.
From 1891 to 1896, Mrs Louisa Price of Cashel faced multiple appearances before the board due to different instances of misconduct. At a meeting on 4 January 1897, she was again called before the board to explain her absence on the night of 25 December 1896 and was also charged with being under the influence of drink in the public streets that same day, which was, of course, Christmas Day. Her explanation failed to satisfy the trustees, so Mrs Price was expelled from the almshouse.
Expulsion, however, was a rare occurrence at the Stanwix Almshouses. The trustees also held the authority to withhold the stipend owed to any expelled inmate as they deemed fit. On rare occasions, widows chose to leave the almshouses of their own volition. For instance, the minutes of the meeting of 8 October 1900 note that Mrs Ryan’s resignation as an inmate was accepted.
– Board members of the Stanwix Trust
If you’re descended from a member of the board of trustees of the Stanwix charity, you’ll also find this minute book useful as a tool to learn more about your ancestor.
The board of trustees always included a mix of Catholics and Protestants. Over the years, numerous Church of Ireland rectors and Catholic parish priests served as trustees, as well as archdeacons and archbishops. There were also “gentlemen”, highly qualified individuals (such as doctors and solicitors), and other lay people. Some families had several members serve on the board.
At the beginning of the minutes for each meeting, the names of the trustees present are listed. Their names were also listed when they made a nomination, put forward a motion, or seconded a nomination/motion. While further breakdowns of the votes were rarely quoted in the minutes, unanimously carried motions and unanimously defeated motions are also informative regarding the individuals involved.
Although it is typically much easier to find information about the trustees than about the widows, we can still use the minute book to build our genealogical data. For instance, a vote of sympathy was typically offered if a current or former trustee died or if a member of a trustee’s family died.
For instance, the minutes from the meeting held on 3 February 1920 indicate the passing of Major Samuel Phillips, one of the trustees, since the previous meeting. His death record further reveals that he died at home in Gaile House in Cashel on 11 November 1919 from a haemorrhage caused by a gastric ulcer.
– The employees of the Stanwix Trust
The two most important employees of the Stanwix charity were the matron and the secretary; the latter assumed the additional responsibility of being the agent for the estate.
The minute book reveals that Maurice Power was elected secretary/agent at the very first meeting of the trustees in 1890. He assumed the role of the minute-taker during the board meetings and it is his distinctive handwriting that you will become very familiar with when perusing the pages of the minute book.
Maurice Power oversaw the upkeep and furnishing of the almshouses, but the primary focus of his role involved collecting rent from the tenants on the Stanwix estate and managing all the financial matters for the trust. From the outset, his annual salary was set at 5% of rents collected.
We can see in the 1901 and 1911 census returns for the Power household that Maurice, a Catholic born in Waterford, was married to Mary and they had nine children (six living in 1911). They resided in a 1st-class house in Stradavoher in Thurles town.
Power held the position of secretary and agent for the Stanwix Trust for 29 years until his death at age 84, then a widower, on 19 November 1919 from chronic arterial sclerosis and acute bronchial catarrh. In the minutes of the next meeting, the board offered an expression of sympathy to his family.
Solicitor John P. Carrigan was then acting secretary; his handwriting is neat and easy to read. Joseph Hickey soon filled the permanent position of secretary.
Johanna Russell was appointed matron at a board meeting on 13 October 1890. Her responsibilities included supervising the inmates, ensuring their compliance with regulations, and maintaining cleanliness and orderliness in the almshouses. As well as her annual salary of £35, the matron received additional allowances to cover the costs of heating, lighting, uniforms and other necessary expenses.
The matron held a live-in position and Form B1 of the 1901 census indicates that Johanna Russell resided in the part of the institution called the “hospital”. The 1901 and 1911 census returns show she was a Catholic and single. According to her death record, Russell passed away from heart disease in her 70s on 12 November 1921, within the premises of the “Stanwix Homes”.
Surprisingly after 31 years of service, the minute book makes no mention of Johanna Russell’s death.
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Miss Tuohy was appointed matron for six months on 7 February 1922 and this was made permanent on 20 November 1923.
The following year it was decided that the portion of the institution called “the hospital” would be let to a suitable tenant, with Dr Mary Ryan accepted as the first tenant in 1926 at an annual rent of £50. Surprisingly, the next tenant was a man, John Casey, whose tenancy began in May 1926.
– Outside contractors, local businesses & volunteers
The minute book meticulously documents the breakdown of finances and issuance of cheques, revealing the names of local businesses and skilled individuals who provided services and produce to the widows’ homes. This information will undoubtedly interest those descended from business people in Thurles town. It also helps to build a picture of daily life in the almshouses for the inmates.
Some entries in the minute book highlight individuals who selflessly rendered their services to the charity free of charge. In some instances, the trustees expressed their gratitude with a mere vote of thanks, while in other cases, some compensation was issued.
For example, the minutes of the meeting of 23 March 1891 record an order that a £1 gratuity be given to Kate Cahill for her services to the institute and her attention to the inmates.
– The tenants of Stanwix estate
From a quick study of Griffith’s Valuation, produced between 1847 and 1864, we can see that the estate belonging to Emma Stanwix – or “Stannix” as it appears in the valuation records – in the civil parish of Moycarkey, in North Tipperary, encompassed parts or all of the townlands of Ashhill, Ballyhudda, Butlersfarm, Coolkip, Drumgower, Kilmelan, Kilnoe, Knocknanus, Knockroe, Knockstowry, Pouldine, Shanbally and Smithsfarm. At some point, the estate also included Maxfort.
Griffith’s Valuation lists over 110 tenants on the Stanwix estate. This number decreased in time as the size of the farm holdings increased. Tenants of the estate are regularly referred to in the minute book. This could be on account of non-payment or partial payment of rent or debts owing. Requests for reductions and part-refunds in rent and applications for division of holdings or improvements to holdings also appear in the minute book, as do the names of new tenants and new direct tenants.
The minute book holds valuable information for descendants of the estate’s tenants interested in the history of their family property or farm. The trustees discuss the potential sale of the estate to the tenants from at least 1904. However, it took 20 years for the trustees to agree to notify the Land Commission that they would permit the tenants to buy their holdings.
For the descendants of the estate’s tenants, the details preserved in the minute book could pave the way to other genealogical resources, such as various valuation records, wills and deeds.
The widows’ homes today
While the digitized minute book concludes in 1930, the almshouses continued to serve the women of Thurles until recent years. At various times from the mid-20th century, maintenance work was carried out in the homes. From 1991–2016, the Sisters of Mercy took care of the daily operations, but the Stanwix Trust was dissolved in December 2020 after 130 years in existence.
Subsequently, the Thurles Lions Trust Housing Association assumed ownership of the houses, undertaking a thorough refurbishment that was completed in May 2023. These houses now form part of the Stanwix Village, a sheltered housing initiative for elderly persons, persons with disabilities and others needing homes.