• Report on proposing the Navan Union,
By Denis Phelan, Esq., M. D., Assistant Poor Law Commissioner

GENTLEMEN,  - 25 May, 1839
Being prepared to suggest the arrangements for a Union, of which Navan will be the centre, it is necessary I should inform you of some circumstances which caused much delay, and required consideration, before its boundaries and some of its electoral divisions could be decided on.
I stated in a former Report that though Dunshaughlin and Trim are less distant from each other, and also from Kells and Navan, than could be desired, each of the former towns is surrounded on three sides by so considerable an area of rich and fertile country that there could be no hesitation in making both the centres of Unions.  The same observation applies to Kells.  But Navan is differently circumstanced ; its distance from Dunshaughlin is only 11 1/2 statute miles, from Trim 8 1/4, from Kells 10 1/4, from Drogheda 15, and from Ardee 18; each of which either has been made, or is likely to be, a centre.

This proximity of Navan to Trim and Kells disposed me to expect that the entire parish of Navan might, without any serious inconvenience, form a part of the Trim Union.  But when I went to that town, and perceived it to be by far the most important in the county in respect to population, trade, and manufactures, and that a circle of four or five miles around it contains the residences of several magistrates and other wealthy and respectable persons, this proposal appeared to be liable to serious objections.  And these were still more strengthened, when an examination of some parishes to the north of Navan convinced me that, in the event of such an arrangement, it would be difficult to provide for them satisfactorily.
But feeling it desirable that the number of workhouses should not be unnecessarily increased, it occurred to me that, if the Navan and Kells districts could be formed into one Union, the centre to be fixed at Donaghpatrick, or about midway, the expense of a second could be avoided without any great inconvenience.  To satisfy myself on this point, and to learn the opinions of the owners and occupiers, I again went through both districts, when I found that the general feeling was against it, and in favour of a Union for each.  But, to test the question more decisively, I had a public meeting convened at Kells, and another at Navan, when I stated the comparative advantages and disadvantages of having two workhouses, or only one.  I calculated the greater expense which would be likely to attend the former arrangement, admitting, however, that fixing the centres in such places of public resort as these towns are, must be a matter not only of convenience to many, but a positive advantage in several respects.  And I also observed, that in my Report to your Board, I should be much influenced by any opinions expressed by the meeting, perceiving that it was so respectably and so numerously attended as to warrant me in considering it a fair representation of the owners and occupiers at large.

In both places the meeting was quite unanimous in preferring to have a centre at or near each town, even at an additional expense, much greater than I stated it was likely to be, namely, about one penny and a farthing per acre per annum.
In coming to this conclusion I perceived that the meeting was chiefly influenced by the following considerations:  First, It was apprehended that a sufficient attendance of guardians would not, in general, be had at the midway workhouse, there being no market, sessions, or other inducement to bring them there; and it was therefore feared that the management would, in a great measure, fall into the hands of the few who might reside in the immediate vicinity.  Secondly, it was considered certain that a good attendance will be had both at Kells and Navan; (and here I may remark, that it was gratifying to perceive the stress which was laid on a regular discharge of their duties by the guardians); and thirdly, it was hoped that, through the Poor Law machinery, funds will hereafter be raised for the relief of the sick poor, it being difficult, if not impossible now to do so sufficiently; and it is expected that the workhouse will, in some time, be made available in affording infirmary and fever accommodation not only to the destitute, the proper objects of relief, but to the paupers and working classes next above the destitute, numbers of whom are known to be reduced to destitution for want of efficient medical attendance.

Should any such arrangements be effected, it is evident that it can be far more readily and more extensively carried into operation where the workhouse is in, or near, a populous town, than if it be in a mere rural locality.
The unanimity which prevailed at these meetings has induced me to depart from my original intention, and to suggest that Kells and Navan be each the centre of a Union; feeling satisfied not only that the rateable property in each is amply sufficient to meet the workhouse expenditure, without any pressure on owners or occupiers, but that it would be injudicious to oppose wishes so fully expressed by the parties concerned. Had I found that there was much difference of opinion, I should, on the contrary, recommend one possessing a greater area and population.

Navan is peculiarly well calculated for a centre.  It is a place of considerable trade in corn, butter, pork, and other agricultural produce, being by far the best market town in the county.  It is, beside, the place in which quarter and petty sessions are held, and immediately contiguous to it are a distillery, a flax manufactory, and some extensive flour mills.  Fuel (coals) is said to be had there cheap and in abundance, in consequence of the facility of carriage from Drogheda by Canal.  And, as the land for miles round is rich, and produces corn and potatoes in great plenty, all the materials for workhouse consumption are readily obtained. In consequence of the proximity of Navan to Trim and Kells, and from its central position in the county, the Union must necessarily be more extended in the northern direction towards Nobber, than in any other; and on this account its form will be less rounded that I could wish.  But no inconvenience is likely to arise from this, as the greatest radius in that direction does not exceed eight or nine miles, and I have ascertained that a satisfactory site can be had on that side of Navan.
The formation of some of the electoral divisions of this Union has also required more than usual consideration.  I allude to those of Navan and Ardbraccan.  In the parishes bearing these names I have ascertained, from personal observation, that there is a far greater pauper population, compared with the area and probable amount of rateable property, than in any other part of the district, and that a greater proportion of this population is, apparently at least, in a state bordering on destitution, or likely to be destitute, under circumstances which would not cause the same condition in other places.  This is said to be produced by the greater number of persons that come to Navan in search of employment in the stores, mills, and other mercantile concerns, but who, being unable to obtain it, or when thrown out of it, locate themselves there, as huts or lodgings can be had on very low terms.  They thus become permanent residents, and many of them are said to become paupers and mendicants.

This cheapness of lodgings for the poor depends on a most pernicious practice, which prevails in Navan to a greater degree than in any other place that I know of.  Some of the owners of the town and of the suburbs let small portions of land, a quarter, a sixth, or an eighth of an acre, to persons possessing some capital, who erect on it a number of huts of the most wretched description, which, of course, they are enabled to give at a very small rent.  Some of this land the middleman sublets to poor persons, who contrive to build these huts themselves for their own residences and as lodging places for beggars.  I have gone into several of these wretched hovels, which far exceed, in point of filth and want of comfort, any that I have seen even in the south of Ireland, and I could not avoid expressing my surprise that persons should be found in the highest and middle classes of society who, for mere gain, contributed to congregate so great a mass of human beings bordering on, if not actually in, a state of destitution, or who can only preserve themselves from it by mendicancy or the commission of crime.

Navan is situated in an angle formed by the junction of the rivers Boyne and Blackwater, and is on the western bank of the former, and the southern of the latter.  The town is immediately divided from the parishes of Athlumny and Donaghmore by these rivers, so that a portion of each parish lies quite contiguous to it, and the flax manufactory, and some of the mills and other stores to which I have alluded, are on the Athlumny side.  The population of the parish of Navan is 6141, and its area is only 3322 statute acres.  The town and suburbs contain 830 houses, the three-fourths of which I suspect will be occupied by persons unable to pay any rates. Considering this disproportion of population and of rateable property, and particularly the more pauperised condition of the population, it appears to be inexpedient to make the parish or Navan an electoral division, as apparently the pressure on it would be greatly disproportioned to that placed on the other parts of the Union.  The difficulty then was, how to enlarge the Navan division without doing some injustice.  It was certain that if only small portions of the parishes of Athlumny and Donaghmore, those immediately adjoining Navan, were proposed to be included, the owners and occupiers of such property would consider that great partiality was exercised to their prejudice.  But if a tolerably large circle be added, extending as far as, but no farther than the land is enhanced in value by its proximity to the town, then the burden will be so diffused and equalized, and placed on property which really derives advantages from its position, that no fair grounds of complaint will exist.

Another circumstance must be also stated.  No small proportion of the surplus population of Navan is said to have come from the surrounding parishes, many small farmers and cottiers being dispossessed on the expiration of their tenures, and from other causes.  But since I held the meeting in Navan, several such families who resided on the Athlumny side have been dispossessed of their holdings, and have gone to reside in the town; and as these are all labourers, or persons possessing no capital, the circumstance naturally increases the apprehensions of those who are likely to be the rate payers, and has been urged by them as a reason for enlarging the division.
Taking all these matters into consideration, I have formed the Navan electoral division by including within it an area of 15,000 statute acres, which contains a population of 9,800.  This arrangement, I have reason to expect, will not be objected to.

Ardbraccan parish is similarly circumstanced to Navan, though in smaller degree.  From nearly the same causes a considerable pauper population has been located in some parts of it; and as many of these are the labourers of the farmers in the neighbouring parishes of Churchtown and Liscarton, these are included in the Ardbraccan electoral division.
I have considered it necessary to give this explanation, without which the Board would not be aware why such delay and difficulties have occurred in preparing and sending in the arrangements for the formation of this Union.
But though I have laid such stress on the disproportionate population of Navan and Ardbraccan, it is possible that no very great number of destitute persons will be found in either, fuel and dwellings being in both very cheap.  In the other parts of the Union there is still less appearance of pauperism.  The entire population is 34,482, and the area is 93,327 acres; on this there is no waste; the whole is rich, and well able to support any destitute that may be found in it.  What that number may amount to I am unable to ascertain, but I consider it sufficient to provide workhouse accommodation, in the first instance, for 500 persons, increasing it to 650 when necessary.

Navan contains a county infirmary, and a county fever hospital — the former entirely, and the latter almost entirely, supported by county presentments.  Both are attended by very competent medical officers; but though these establishments give relief chiefly to those who reside within five or six miles, and though the county funds are notoriously insufficient to meet the demands made on these institutions, scarcely any subscriptions are obtained from the gentry and other wealthy persons who reside within that district. The consequences are, as I myself witnessed, that wretched paupers, ill of bad fever, when brought to the hospital gates, are refused admittance, and sent back to disseminate disease in their own families.
But a still greater evil occurs here.  For this population of Navan and Ardbraccan the gentry, or local authorities, have provided no dispensary attendance; domiciliary visits are never paid in this part of the country to the sick poor; than which there can scarcely be a stronger proof of the necessity of a change in the laws which relate to the medical institutions of this country.
Beside the two charities alluded to, there are five dispensaries in the Union, in the following places—Slane, Kentstown, Wilkinstown, Castletown, and Ross.
I have the honour, &c.,
Assistant Poor Law Commissioner To The Poor Law Commissioners.


Name of proposed Union . . . NAVAN,
Address of Clerks of the Peace of the County or Counties within which the Union is situate.
Robert Chambers, Newtown Park, Trim; and 1, Upper Leeson street, Dublin.
Petty Sessional Divisions included in the Union: Navan, Slane, George's Cross, Navan.
Names and Addresses to Clerks to Petty Sessional Divisions.
H.N. Williams, Navan.
Thomas M'Mahon, Slane.
Henry Beatty, George's Cross, Navan.
Extreme Length of Union. 17 1/2 statute miles. Extreme Breadth. 14 miles.
Proposed Qualification for Guardian, Annual value of £10.
Date of Declaration, 25th June 1839.
Day on which Union is to take effect, 1st July.
Time and Place at which Justices of the Peace are to meet to appoint ex-officio Guardians,
4th July. The Courthouse in Navan.

Nomination Day for election of Guardians, 8th July.
Day of Election of Guardians, 22nd July.
First Meeting of Guardians to be held at the Courthouse, Navan, 30th July.
Denis Phelan,
Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, 24th May, 1839.

Names and Addresses of Justices of the Peace qualified to act as ex officio Guardians:
Robert Burke, Esq. Hayes, Navan
Francis Murphy, Esq., Kilcairn, Navan.
Richard R. Fitzherbert, Esq., Black-castle, Navan.
Samuel Garnett, Esq., Arch-hall, Navan.
Thomas Gerrard, Esq., Liscarton, Navan
Thomas E. Hussey, Esq., Rathkenny, Navan.
Gustavus Lambert, Esq., Beau-parc, Slane.
Patrick Lynch, Esq, Tara-hall, Dunshaughlin.
Henry Meredith, Esq., Randalstown, Navan.
Peter Ponsonby Metge, Esq., Athlumney, Navan.
Brabazon Morris, Esq., Mullaha, Navan
Arthur H.C. Pollock, Esq., Mountainstown Navan.
Thomas Rothwell, Esq., Black-castle, Navan.
Sir William Meredith Somerville, Bart. Sommerville, Ashbourne.
Robert Taaffe, Esq., Ardmulchan, Navan.
James N. Waller, Esq., Allenstown, Navan.
Thomas White Smith, Esq., Nevinstown, Navan.
John Young, Esq., Phelpotstown, Navan.
William E. Grainger, Esq., Causestown, Navan.
Robert Tighe Hopkins, Esq., Tankardstown, Navan

Electoral Divisions, population and number of Guardians:
1. Navan 9,799. 5.
2. Ardbraccan 4,744. 3.
3.  Bective 1,041. 1.
4. Tara 1,550. 1.
5. Ardmulchan 1,459. 1.
6. Kentstown 1,475. 1.
7. Painestown 2,170. 2.
8. Donaghpatrick 2882. 2.
9. Castletown 3,042.      2.
10. Rathkenny 1,995. 1.
11. Stackallen 1,825.      1.
12. Slane 2,500. 1.
34,482 21.
Workhouse accommodation proposed for 500 Inmates.
Source: https://books.google.ie/books?id=dTxWo3mVeq4C&pg=PA381&lpg=PA381&dq