Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World
September 2015 - Cork Ireland
We were lucky to be the only visitors to the Cork City Gaol, now a museum.
Cork City Gaol was designed to replace the old Gaol at the North Gate Bridge in the heart of the city.
Gaol vs. jail
Gaol is an obsolescent spelling of the word now usually spelled jail. Other than the spelling, there is no difference between the words. Gaol was common outside North American until fairly recently (it was stamped out of American English in the early 19th century, and dropped out of Canadian use about a century later), but it underwent a steady decline through the 20th century and now appears only rarely. Its most common use today is in the names of jails, but it is still possible to find a few scattered instances of gaol as a common noun in recent writing. For reasons mysterious to us, it appears to be most common in Ireland and Australia.
When Cork City Gaol first opened it was reported as being “the finest in 3 kingdoms”. It housed both male and female prisoners who committed crimes within the city boundary.
In the 1870s a number of changes occurred in the Gaol. The West Wing was remodelled into a brighter, more spacious double-sided cell wing. The Gaol also became “a place of confinement for females only”.
It is a wonderful piece of Georgian/Gothic architecture, with a number of particularly pleasant and unusual features – in fact, from the outside, it looks more like a castle than a purpose built prison. The classical proportions of the building feature Gothic details such as turreted battlements, dripstones etc. The basic shape of the main building is like the capital letter “H”, with the Governor’s House forming the central block.
At each end of the Governor’s House are circular drum galleries, 3 storeys high linking into the cell wings. These are lighted from central roof lanterns. The ends of each of the single-sided cell wings have beautifully proportioned circular towers, offsetting the austerity of the wings.
The remodelled (1870s) double-sided West cell wing, in contrast to the others, gives a remarkable sense of space with its high arched hallway and catwalks on either side giving access to the cells. Behind the main building was the Hospital and also, the Debtors Prison (both yet to be restored).
The Governor's office as you enter.
Yes, that is a picture of Queen Victoria, Ireland was under England's rule at this time.
Off duty warders, a warder and his family live in this room.
Newspaper clippings of the crimes.
The vast majority of Gaol inmates were detained for petty crimes, particularly during times of great hardship when being poor was usually equated with being guilty.
Below are examples of some of the crimes committed, do they seem unusual to you?
Michael Coughlan, aged 22, was committed in April 1824 for “Stealing a Mule”. He was sentenced to 12 months and was released in March 1825. According to the Prison register he was “very well conducted during the latter part of his confinement”.
In June 1825 John Dooley, aged 50, was sentenced to 3 weeks for “having timber in his possession”. He was released in July 1825 and was reported to be a “quiet and orderly” prisoner.
A 17-year-old by the name of Richard Blakeney, was sentenced to 3 months in June 1827 and was released on 22nd September of that year. His Crime? “Spoiling his Masters work”
Patrick Shaw was sentenced to 1 month for “stealing a spoone”, he was released on 17th August 1829.
Bridget Ahern (24) and Mary McMahon (30) were both convicted on the same day in December 1850. It was Bridgets’ first conviction and she was sentenced to 6 weeks of hard labour for “stealing a cloth cloake”. Mary, however, had 3 previous convictions, this time she was convicted of “stealing a bar of soap” and was sentenced to 8 months with hard labour.
Do you have a wicked tongue? Well, spare a thought for poor Mary Tucker – a 19th century inmate who was imprisoned simply for the use of "obscene language". The prison's romantic castle exterior hides the stories of penal horror that lie within, where many inmates were locked away simply for stealing loaves of bread during times of poverty. Lifelike figures, furnished cells and sound effects enhance the experience, giving a sensory insight into day-to-day life for prisoners and their gaolers.
This is Mary Sullivan. She looks like a bloodthirsty murderer, but in fact she is a seamstress and in 1865 she received a seven year sentence following her eighth conviction for the theft of cloth. She is just after being deloused according to prison regulations, and ready to see the Governor John Barry Murphy.
This is Thomas Raile. He was convicted of stealing some books. Serving his time in a solitary confinement, he got an opportunity to contemplate his wrongdoings and has turned to religion for guidance. After his sentence, he was unable to get a reference so he spent his time in the streets, begging to survive.
This young woman is Mary Ann Twohig, a 16 year old mother. She was heavily pregnant when she stole a cloth cap and some kitchen utensils with an intention to pawn them and get some money. Due to the pregnancy she was sentenced to only two months, without hard labor.
She was the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament, although she refused to take her seat. She instead became Minister for labour in De Valeras provisional government.
Countess Markievicz was arrested in 1919 and charged with making a seditious speech or, in her own words, “advising girls not to walk out with the police and a few other remarks of that sort”. She was sentenced to 4 months in Cork City Gaol and she stated that it was the most comfortable jail she had ever been in! While she was in the Gaol she wrote letters declaring how good the people of Cork were during her imprisonment.
“The Cork people spoil me dreadfully. Such fruit and flowers all the time.”
Another famous inmate during the turbulent 1920’s in the Women’s Gaol was the outstanding Cork writer, Frank O Connor. He was born Michael O Donovan in Cork on September 17th 1903. Educated at St. Patrick’s National School- where one of his teachers was Daniel Corkery, who encouraged his literary talent. While still in his teens he fought in the Civil War and ended up in the Women’s Gaol in Sunday’s Well. He later wrote that the cots and blankets were crawling with lice.
Edward O’Brien, pickpocket, is nine years old. He has seven previous convictions and has been convicted of petty theft. He is sentenced to three weeks in jail with whippings twice a week. He is sent to reformatory school after his release.
A warder is walking Dr, Beamish to a sick prisoner's cell. Overworked and underpaid, Dr. Beamish has spent many years carrying his medical bag from cell to cell and fighting all sorts of infections and injuries.
As always, a gift shop.