Former buildings Dromore West Workhouse Sligo

A scandalous event at the Dromore West Workhouse

An interesting social history case in the DIPPAM archives. The documents related to an event which occurred in 1879 and an inquiry was called to investigate how the Dromore West Workhouse was been managed.

A Captain Spaight, who was the Local Government Board Inspector, chaired the Inquiry, and it concerned a Miss Annie Kiolehan, who was working as the headmistress in the Dromore West Workhouse in county Sligo in the north-west of Ireland in 1879.

Annie Kiolehan had given birth to a baby girl on the 24th of September 1880. Annie was living and still teaching in the workhouse in the weeks leading up to the birth and she appears to have kept the pregnancy hidden until a week before the birth. As Annie was not married the baby was deemed illegitimate and after giving birth to a girl named Estella, Annie was obliged to resign from her teaching post and leave the workhouse. She left her baby under the charge of the workhouse. The birth of the baby by an employee of the workhouse caused scandal in the area and letters and articles appeared in the local press at the time.  An inquiry was called for, to investigate the incident and to find out how the workhouse was been run.  At the time of the birth, Miss Kiolehan had not stated who the father of the child was, a few weeks later she gave the name of the father as a Peter Hale.

Newspaper report from 1880
Irish Times newspaper report – Nov 1880

Peter Hale, was the son of the Patron of the workhouse and had visited the workhouse several times. The report reveals how employees at the workhouse were frequently drunk and it was believed this gave rise to the incident.

Former buildings Dromore West Workhouse Sligo
Dromore West Workhouse in Sligo

Annie states that on New Year’s Eve of 31st December 1879 she had gone to bed early and woke up to find a man in her room. She then fainted and when she woke up the man was gone, she wasn’t certain at the time but thought the man looked like Peter Hale. When questioned about why she thought it was Peter Hale, Miss Kiolehan stated she had received an anonymous letter referring to the incident and how she shouldn’t report it as to not disgrace herself. She also gave evidence, stating how she was out walking one day after the incident, Peter Hale had attempted to kiss her and asked her, had she any more midnight visitors.

Several witnesses were called to give evidence at the Inquiry, including the Chaplain at the workhouse who baptised the baby, he states he baptised the infant Estella, the Chaplain is also asked about the name Emma, which he denies knowing about.  A Porter gave evidence and his entrance book was submitted as evidence, which records the comings and goings of visitors to the workhouse, as Peter Hale was related to the Patron, he wasn’t recorded in the book. The inquiry also mentions how the Master of the workhouse, a Thomas Lavelle and his wife the Matron, Mary Lavelle were frequently drunk and even while attending the Inquiry.

skeleton keys old keys
The Master and Matron of the Workhouse were questioned about access to Annie’s room and who had access to keys of the rooms.


Peter Hale denied the accusations that he was the father of the child or that he had more than a passing acquaintance with Miss Kiolehan.  Peter was the son of Richard Hale, one of the directors on the Board of Guardians for the workhouse, he was also related to the Matron Mary Lavelle and the Medical Officer Doctor Charles Mahon.  Peter Hale mentioned other men he had seen Annie walking with or talking to, one of which was her cousin Peter Wall.

The inquiry verdict

After two days of evidence, Captain Spaight recommended that the Master and Matron should resign from their posts and that Annie Kiolehan had most likely been seduced outside of the workhouse and that Peter Hale was not the father of the child. Thus ensuring the Workhouse was not held responsible.

The child remained in the workhouse and Annie offered to pay 1d 6s for the child’s upkeep. This was refused by the Board of the workhouse, who stated the child must be removed from the workhouse as the child was not sick or if the child remained, Annie would need to admit herself into the workhouse.

Dromore West Workhouse Sligo
The remnants of the Dromore West Workhouse, Sligo

Annie appears to have come from a well to do family, as she mentions during her evidence how she spent twelve months in New York after she failed a teaching exam. She was a young educated woman of about thirty years of age in 1880, who had the fare to travel and return from America in the late 1870s. Despite resigning from her teaching position she was offering to pay money towards her child’s upkeep. On the advice of her sister, she hired a solicitor a Mr Mannion to represent her during the Inquiry.

Annie mentions lending a book called Kusheen to Peter, they appeared to be more than passing acquaintances.


Old vintage photo of an unknown little girl

I wondered after reading the report, what became of Annie and her child, I checked the census for Kiolehan, which is an unusual spelling of the surname. I found Annie/Bridget in the 1901 census and in other genealogy records, it shows the birth of Estella Kivlehan in September 1880. Another record shows an Estille Hale, christened on the 4th of November 1880, her parents are listed as Annie Kivlhan and her father as Peter Hale and the place of residence is the workhouse. Next to the record is the word illegitimate and the name Emma has been inserted, which ties in with the details which emerged during the inquiry.

I checked the 1901 census and can’t find a 20-year-old Emma or Estille, I did find a Peter Hale and his wife of twenty-two years, Winifred and their four children. One of the witnesses during the inquiry remarked how Annie was unfortunate to be seduced by such as a person, where she had nothing to gain and no hope of marriage. The inference that Peter was already married. On the 1901 census, Bridget Kiolehan is listed as a retired national school teacher and was living just a few miles away from the workhouse, in what appears to be a boarding house in Templeboy, Dromore West in County Sligo. That’s where the story comes to an end for now as I can’t find any other records for Emma or Estella, perhaps she was adopted and her name changed. Where ever she ended up one hopes she had a long and happy life.


1. Paper relating to Management and Discipline of Workhouse at Dromore West, County Sligo

National Archives of Ireland


4. Images: and Author's own

5. National Library of Ireland - Parish records

6. Newspaper archive - Irish Times - 16 Nov 1880

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