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Anna In Cork – Cork City Gaol

a double decker bus parked on the side of a road

Cork City Gaol

Last month I got the opportunity to go down to Cork for the day for a bit of a ‘date’ with the city and spend some time getting to know its sights for our trip down at the end of March! My first stop was to visit Shandon Bells & Tower at St. Anne’s Church and boy did I have a ball! 

My next stop was to visit the incredible Cork City Goal and I was super excited! I remember being fascinated by Kilmainham Gaol as a child so this was right up my alley!

West WingMy visit to Cork City Gaol was a real insight into what life was like in a 19th Century prison! It was a glorious day and I was an hour early for my tour, so after having a chat with the team at reception, I explored the beautifully well kept grounds! I was scheduled for the 2pm guided tour with Craig! He was an absolute gem and was able to answer every question I fired at him, no matter how bizarre it was! I was surprised how many people had shown up on a random Wednesday afternoon for the guided tour! It was great to see the place so busy!

The Goal opened in 1824 and was in operation for 99 years so there is plenty to see, do and learn about! Queen Victoria

Craig started us out in the governor’s office which was fitting since that would have been the first stop for inmates! Upon arrival, after being deloused, they would be taken for a meeting with the governor so he could record their name, height, weight, age, crime and sentence!

Luckily our visit to the governor’s office wasn’t quite so tense and we all had a giggle at queen victoria looking down over us all!West Wing

We were then taken into the west wing to have a look at where inmates would have spent their time. I must say it was impressive! I found it really interesting that the atrium at the end of the wing would be used for mass/service on a sunday. One wing would hold a catholic service and the other would hold a protestant service and residents could choose which one they would like to attend. It was the only time male and female prisoners mixed. I thought that was a really cool nugget of information!

Each cell in the wing contains a different character and their story. They were all horrific in their own way, but there were a couple that really stuck with me! 

Mary McDonnell who was only 23 years old on her 57th conviction! Arrested and countess markievicz in her cellcharged with neglecting her six children and beating them while she was drunk. Craig told us that She had recently become a widow and the arresting officer said that ‘her husband died a few days prior and she’d been drunk ever since.’ She was sentenced to one month in the Gaol but her 6 children were worse for wear as they were sent to workhouses across the city. At the time, about a fifth of children sent to workhouses died each year in Cork city. It’s crazy to think that these people were once real and not just mannequins in an old cell!

CellYou also got the opportunity to try out a cell and see what it would have been like! It was a really great way of getting people to empathize with the stories that you were being told! Its mad to me as well that children as young as 9 were housed with other prisoners and some prisoners were held in solitary confinement for the duration of their stay.

The prison put a lot of emphasis on the moral improvement of inmates.

They believed that evil was a disease that could be spread, so violent offenders were kept in solitary confinement as it was believed that if they were allowed to mingle with other inmates their evil would spread. They were only allowed to meet with religious figures such as priests as they believed that religion was the antidote to evil.

Exersise YardFor exercise inmates were made to walk in circles in complete silence. You can still see the track that they walked into the ground behind the building. That was really eerie. It was hoped that silence would allow prisoners to look within and see the errors of their ways.

What was crazy to me was that poor people often committed crimes with the sole purpose of being sentenced to time in prison as they were better provided for than out in the world. In the prison you had food, shelter and free health care which was more than they had out in the world on their own.

Radio MuseumWhat was a really unexpected gem for me was the audio visual experience and the radio museum! Did you know that the gaol was used as a home for Cork’s first radio station (Cork 6CK) back in the 1920’s?

I love a good immersive experience and really enjoyed sitting & listening to the audio/visual experience. It was a great way to experience the stories of inmates from a different perspective. 

All in all, I really recommend a visit to the Gaol! If you’re looking for something affordable & educational, it’s a really great activity for families with kids. They have options to suit everyone! Their self-guided tour is included in the price of your ticket and is really easy to follow along with. Their audio tour is only Two Euro extra per person and is available in a host of different languages! I really recommend joining a guided tour if you can! It’s great to hear the stories aurally and be able to fire questions at the guide – no matter how silly they are!

They have lots of interactive elements such as a punishment game to keep kids engaged and they strike a really lovely balance of keeping the mood fun while not making light of the dark stories that the Gaol has to tell!


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