A special event was held recently to mark the official opening of The Dungannon Workhouse Memorial Garden at South Tyrone Hospital.
The garden was created by The Southern Trust as a memorial to all those men, women and children who are buried on the site and includes a special engraved stone in their memory.
Members of Donaghmore Historical Society, Trust staff as well as the Chair of Mid-Ulster Council and local religious leaders were among those attending the opening.
Dr Maria O’Kane, Southern Trust Chief Executive welcomed everybody attending this significant and poignant event.
Dr O’Kane said: “It is impossible for us to imagine the terrible hardship suffered by so many people in this area in the 19th Century. It’s even harder to imagine that this is the site of a graveyard where hundreds, of men, women and children who died in the Dungannon Workhouse, were buried.
As well as being a memorial to all those who died, this garden is also a space for reflection and a place for our staff, patients and visitors from the local community to come and take time out for quiet space, fresh air or to enjoy some exercise. Exercise is so important for general overall health, we also know the benefits of being outdoors and connecting with nature for our mental wellbeing.”
Dr O’Kane also acknowledged the dedication and commitment of Mary MacGinty and other Donaghmore Historical Society members who campaigned over many years for a fitting memorial for the many people who had sought refuge and of the many who had died in this workhouse.
Bertie Foley of Donaghmore Historical Society, said some poignant words and discussed the history of the Workhouse and those who experienced it.
In the 1990s, Margaret MacGinty from the historical society successfully campaigned and received support from the local council to have a plaque erected outside the old wall of the workhouse on Quarry Lane. More recently, Margaret’s daughter in-law Mary has been working with The Southern Trust on plans for this memorial on the site of the actual graveyard.
The Dungannon Workhouse was opened in May 1842 and its first residents arrived on 23rd June the same year. The building was built to serve up to 800 people but during the period of the Great Famine (1847-1850) it catered for twice that number.
The first death was recorded on 12th August 1842 and between then and the end of the century almost 4,000 deaths were recorded. A graveyard was created on the site of the Workhouse and the majority of the inhabitants would have been buried there.
The old Workhouse was finally pulled down in 1978 but the date stone that was over the entrance is still on display today inside South Tyrone Hospital.
This garden is a symbol of growth and continuity. A reminder that the modern Heath care system has come a long way since its origins.