This is the first full account of the origins and introduction of the Irish Poor Law. Ireland had no national system for the relief of poverty before 1838. Following the enactment of that year, the island was covered by a network of 130 union workhouses, charged with the relief of destitution. These rapidly became notorious for the harshness of their internal regime, and for their catastrophic failure during the Great Famine. However, the Poor Law also represented the first official acknowledgement of state responsibility for social welfare and of the entitlement of the poor to some public assistance. It also created the first form of responsible local government in the Irish countryside.This book examines the debates preceding and surrounding the 1838 act on the nature of Irish poverty and the responsibilities of society towards it. It traces the various campaigns for a poor law from the later eighteenth century. The nature and internal frictions of the great Irish poor inquiry of 1833-36 are analyzed, along with the policy recommendations made by its chair, Archbishop Whately. It considers the aims and limitations of the government's measure and the public reaction to it in Ireland and Britain. Finally, it describes the implementation of the Poor Law between 1838 and 1843 under the controversial direction of George Nicholls. It will be of importance to those with a serious interest in the history of social welfare, of Irish social thought and politics, and of British governance in Ireland in the early nineteenth century.