Celbridge workhouse was constructed between 1839 and 1841 and designed to house 519 people drawn from Celbridge, Lucan, Rathcoole, Leixlip, Maynooth and Kilcock.
It was erected just before the Great Famine and its highest census figure was 455 inmates in 1851, down to 211 in 1861. At the time Augustus Frederick Fitzgerald (1791–1874) was the district chairman it was claimed that Celbridge was one of the best situated workhouses in the country, although a more recent study indicates more widespread poverty in Kildare than was previously admitted.
Similar claims that, “it is well known that Celbridge is one of the best managed Unions of its class in Ireland” were later made during a visit to the workhouse in January 1897 by Beatrix Craven-Cadogan (1844-1907) wife of the British Viceroy.
After the 1860s the workhouse was used as a fever hospital, a home for the elderly and infirm, and for unmarried mothers.
Orphans and “illegitimate” children (as they were described in official records) were fostered out to the community from the workhouse. The Celbridge community participated in a large-scale fosterage scheme for orphans in the care of the Holy Faith order.
In 1922 the workhouse was used as a base by the new Irish army and was the first barracks in which the uniform of the new Free State army was worn. Soldiers marched from here to take possession of Beggar’s Bush barracks in South Dublin on 31st January 1922.
In 1923 the hospital was closed. In 1933 the Union Paint factory was established on the site. In 1939 the current Garda barracks was built on part of the workhouse site.
On an adjoining roadside garden there is a memorial to 1,500-2,500 inmates who died and were buried there during the Great Famine of 1845/47.