Almshouses were set up by landlords prior to council housing. Some were for widows, others were for older people. In Meath we had at least three alms houses. One in Dowth, one in Athboy and one in Kildalkey. They are often targeted at the poor of a locality or their widows, and at elderly people who can no longer pay rent, and are generally maintained by the trustees of a bequest.
In 1832 Thomas Hodgins, a major landowner in Kildalkey, bequeathed £1000 for the erection of almshouses, and £60 per annum for the inmates, who must be natives of this parish. Thomas lived at Newtown House, Blackrock in Dublin and had been a timber and rope merchant but also developed a glassworks at Ringsend. His son, Robert, who lived at Beaufort, Blackrock inherited the Kildalkey estates.
The £1000 pounds was not enough to construct the Alms Houses so the other major landlord Lord Darnley had to contribute to the erection of the building. Dated to 1856 the building was described as catering for 25 men and 25 women or 50 men and 50 women. In 1871 there were 5 men and one woman in residence. In 1901 there was only one old woman living in the Almshouse. By 1909 the initial investment of £1000 had increased in value to £1664.
The Almshouses was used as a school from 1888 until the current school was opened in 1931 and again more recently before the new school was erected. In 1930 the trustees of the Hodgins Charity said that Irish language classes could not be held in the Almshouse as they did not meet the original objectives of the charity. Yet by 1939 the local county committee of agriculture was holding classes on vegetable growing in the building.
In 1950 the trustees transferred the hall to the local diocese and into the control of the local parish. In 1951 the new hall was opened and named “St. Dympna’s Hall.” It had its own lighting plant as electricity had not yet reached Kildalkey. A new hall was built to the rear of the Almshouses in 1974. The hall underwent major refurbishment in 2007.
In 1798 three alms houses were erected in Athboy by the local landlord, Lord Darnley. They are wretchedly built, and were left in an unfinished state for some time. They were inhabited, and there was even a grocer’s shop kept in one of them.
The three alms houses contained apartments for twelve poor widows, who have each an annual allowance of £5 5 shillings, with a garden and ten kishes of turf. In 1837 Lord Darnley also supported about 43 poor out-pensioners also receive weekly allowances. In 1843 the three houses were re-built. In 1901 there were 12 widows living in them. Demand for the housing was reduced by the 1960s and in 1966 the Almshouses were acquired by Meath County Council and the transfer was signed by the trustees Rev. F. M. O’Byrne and Garrett Tyrrell. The council intended to use it as a community centre, courthouse and library. The buildings housed a branch library for a period but in 1969 they were sold by the council to Mrs. McElhinney. They were demolished in 1970 and replaced with a new ladies fashion shop.
In 1826 Lord Netterville left 60 acres, for the building of an alms house for widows and orphans at Dowth. Lord Netterville’s wishes were that ‘the inmates should live in peace and good feeling with each other; and that they must be clean, tidy and perfectly sober, and that they must attend when able to those who from sickness are unable to do this for themselves. It was not until 1877 that the magnificent Gothic red brick structure was built. In 1901 there were 15 women living in the almshouse. The Netterville Institution, still stands and is known today as Netterville Manor. The little chapel in the grounds of the manor was converted to a school for the local children. The Institution closed in the early 1960s and Netterville was the base for the archaeological excavations for Newgrange in the later 1960s.