When Belfast Charitable Society opened the Poor House in 1774 it did not originally envisage children being admitted to the institution. However, due to growing pressures and the fact that the Poor House was the only institution that could support destitute children, it agreed to allow up to twenty children in 1776. These children were to be between the ages of 7 and 12 and would be educated and supported by the Society. Barney Kelly, the second in our series exploring the lives of the children, was part of this original twenty.

Barney was found on the streets of Belfast and was admitted to the Poor House on 4 May 1774 aged 11. Mr Mawhinney, the school master, was tasked with looking after Barney when he first came into the building. Barney was provided with soap to wash himself and, once clean, he was given a new set of fresh clothes to wear. Mrs Mawhinney, the school mistress and wife to the school master, prepared a bed for Barney in the children’s quarters.

Every child was different, and its appears from our archives that Barney was not happy at being admitted to the Poor House. He eloped after only three days, slipping out of the upper windows with another child. Barney was brought back by his mother, who lived in the town, the following morning. The orderly was going to punish him for the offence, but on his promise of good behaviour he pardoned him. Some though were less lucky, like William Bickerstaff, who, nearly 100 years later, was fed on bread and water as a punishment for absconding twice from the Poor House.

It was behaviour like this from Barney and other children in the care of the charity which forced them to put bars on the windows of the children’s rooms only a  month after allowing children to be admitted in order to safeguard them.

Want to learn more? Come along on our tours and hear more about the children and the history of the Poor House. With our augmented reality, visitors can now fully immerse themselves in the past as it comes to life right before your eyes. See can how the children learned in the nursery school and experience the ‘Black Hole’ – the punishment room for those who misbehaved. For more information and to book, please click here to visit the tours section of our website.