Monday, 15 October 2012

The Workhouse Bell

A 1907 map of the North Dublin Union Workhouse. Note the road running right to left at the bottom of the map is North Brunswick Street where our grandfather James Lawlor was born in 1913 and grew up as a child. Its a five minute walk from Bolton Street where the McDonnells and Whelans lived.

The Blind Advocate April 1899 featured this poem written by Thomas Guilfoyle - a blind poet reduced to the North Dublin Workhouse.

The Workhouse Bell
How long and dreary seems the night, 'tis long to wait for Day,
And yet my dreams are full of light, now heart is far away
For thoughts of home and all at once dear come o'er me like a spell
But I awake, alas! to hear the cheerless workhouse bell.
This fortune with a heavy hand , my fondest hopes did blast,
And yet my strength and self command, I bore up to the last
But now in silence I endure that grief no tongue can tell,
I feel the sorrows of the poor, I hear the workhouse bell.
I think of Christmas past and gone, I face the merry chime,
I led the dance - I led the song in happy olden time.
But now the sound that wrings my heart is like a funeral knell,
That tells of those whom death doth part, the dreary work house bell.
No murmur will they hear from me, however hard my fate,
And yet I long for liberty, I crave for freedom sweet.
And should I leave these scenes of woe, in peace once more to dwell,
In fancy still, where-er I go, I'll hear the workhouse bell.

Editorial notes:

The Workhouse Bell.

The author Mr Thomas Guilfoyle is a blind man and at present an inmate of the North Dublin union. We are told that when Mr Guilfoyle was quite a young man he composed many songs and poems suitable for recitation. Through the kindness of a lady sympathizer we have been supplied with the manuscript copy of the poem in the present issue, for which we are extremely obliged. It is a sad sequel to the careers of so many of our capable men and women that in the decline of their years, the time when they need so much care and devotion should be obliged to seek shelter in such places. Oh ye who are endowed with health and strength, set yourselves vigorously to work and obliterate the circumstances which so cramp our social life and render such horrible conditions possible.

The Blind Advocate - June 1899

Some time ago a short poem appeared in the columns of the Blind Advocate entitled "The Workhouse Bell", and written by a Mr Thomas Guilfoyle, who is still an inmate of the North Dublin Union. Accompanied by Mr McDonnell we visited poor old Guilfoyle. From reports we had heard, we fully anticipated that his mental capacity was sadly impaired. We were destined to an agreeable surprise, however, for the intellect of old Thomas is as clear as day. Guilfoyle accorded us an indescribably touching reception, and we soon assured ourselves that even within the gloomy walls of the Union the light and progress of our movement is watched and appreciated by at least one staunch admirer.

Mr Guilfoyle recitded for us selections from his poetical compositions. One set of his verses struck us as a peculiarly graphic description of the vicissitudes of like through which the poet himself has passed. reflections of the Night is certainly a magnificent peice of workmanship and we are pleased to announce that we have we have recieved permission to publish it. As we quitted the side of our friend we could not but feel touched with respect and admiration for Mr McDonnell, as he warmly grasped the hand of the poet and remarked "Never mind old chap, you shall no longer want a friend. I will often come and see you, and do what little I can to make your life and that of your fellows a little brighter and happier".

That if all administrators of the Poor be actuated by such generous impulses, salvation would be well-nigh accomplished.

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