As sinister as Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Cork City Gaol was one of the most terrible prisons in Ireland. Now converted into a museum, the prison offers a most poignant testimony to the conditions of detention of the prisoners at the time. The visit is guided, and takes you deep into the prison and its cells: a visit that will give you the chills!
Construction of Cork Prison began in 1806, under the direction of Thomas Dean and architect William Robertson. The work lasted several years until the prison first opened in 1824. Very modern for the time, Cork City Gaol initially enjoyed an excellent reputation: the cells were cold and damp, but the prison’s structures made it a place of incarceration considered “very comfortable” for the time (let’s not be fooled: prison conditions were very difficult).
In 1870, Cork Prison underwent some changes and had its west wing somewhat enlarged to accommodate more prisoners. It was also at this time that the Cork City Gaol became a prison exclusively reserved for the incarceration of women. It therefore transferred its male prisoners to other prisons, such as Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and now houses an exclusively female population, guilty of crimes and offences ranging from simple begging to theft and murder. Some of them are sometimes pregnant, give birth within the prison, and raise their children there in unhealthy conditions.
However, the Irish Civil War (1922/1924) forced the prison to accommodate within its walls a few men opposed to the Treaty of London who were incarcerated from 1922 to 1923. The latter served their sentences alongside the female inmates, which was not intended to create certain tensions within the prison.
It was in 1923 that the Cork City Gaol closed its doors for good: judged unhealthy and aging, the prison could no longer accommodate any more prisoners, and was finally abandoned for several years. It was then taken over by the Irish State, and converted into a museum in 1993 to retrace the history of the prison, but also to bear witness to the difficult conditions of detention at the time.
The visit of Cork City Gaol is obligatory guided, and will lead you to the different wings of the prison. You will discover in particular the west wing, one of the largest parts of the prison, where there are more than 40 cells spread over 3 floors in a hemicycle. The whole is connected by an iron staircase, which gives access to the upper floors.
To spice up the visit, you will discover along your exploration of the prison many mannequins depicting jailers and inmates in a wide variety of situations.
These include scenes of inmates being mistreated, whipped in their cells, priests coming to confess prisoners, and prison guards in daily scenes, playing cards or watching parts of the prison.
You will then have the opportunity, for the most courageous, to try a most terrible experience, where your guide will propose to lock you alone in a cell, in order to measure the full extent of the conditions of detention at the time. Strong sensations guaranteed! Fortunately, you will be released in less than a minute…
Finally, you will be invited to attend the screening of a film, which reconstructs as faithfully as possible a trial of the time.
from March to October from 9.20 am to 6 pm, from November to February from 10 am to 5 pm, and on weekends from 10 am to 5 pm