Cork City Gaol – 14/3/15

Anthony OConnor - Cork City Gaol-10 Trevor OConnell - Cork City Gaol-1

The ECCG shoot on March 14th 2015 took a step back in time with a visit to the Cork City Gaol and Heritage Centre. The construction of the magnificent castle-like building, with the main section and two impressive wings on either side with circular towers, commenced in 1816. Mrs Deane and her son won the contract to build the gaol and John Hogan developed the sketch drawings for the prison from architect William Robertson.

The new city gaol opened in 1824 divided in two parts housing both male and female prisoners.  It was for poverty related petty minor crimes, stealing being the most common offence that a vast majority of the gaol inmates were detained and sentenced to hard labour for. The prison saw its first execution in 1828 with the public hanging of Owen Ryan over the main entrance convicted of an assault on a woman. The detailed account of this execution was published in the Cork Freeholder newspaper.

Over the years the gaol was expanded and altered several times and in 1878 became an all-female prison known locally as the ‘Women’s Gaol’. It remained so until anti treaty supporters, both male and female, were incarcerated there in the 1920’s. Evidence of their time spent in the building is depicted by writings on the cell walls by some of those prisoners. The prison closed in 1923 and was later used as a radio broad casting station by the Radio Éireann now RTÉ from 1927 to the 1950’s. In 1983 the gaol was converted to a museum and heritage centre and is now open most days of the year with guided tours for its many thousands of visitors.

The ECCG group were given a 40 minute tour of the gaol by our guide Orla imparted some fascinating information about the gaol itself, the prisoners that were kept there - notably Thomas Raile and nine year old Edward O Brien and the rules and punishments of the gaol. There were quite a few life sized wax figures of suffering gaol prisoners and sadistic guards throughout the gaol. The exhibition sound effects of the shuffling feet of inmates and audio visual presentation of judges sentencing the guilty gave a sense of the hardship and difficulty for the poverty stricken who resorted to crime in order to survive. All gave a fascinating insight into the day-to-day prison life and brought home the harshness of the 19th century penal system in Ireland.

A memorable and educational day for the ECCG group as we ended our shoot outside the gaol building capturing on camera the sheer immensity of this imposing building and considered by all who were there a worthwhile visit.

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- Noelle Lowney