Day 10: The Terrifying History of the Wicklow Gaol... 10/10/2018


Wicklow Gaol was built in 1702 and hopefully closed in 1924. This prison, maybe more than the other was known for its cruelty. Being there was synonym of suffering, the jail was inhospitable and loads of prisoners died from different diseases. The nice surname given to the jail was “The Gate of Hell”, you will discover why later... 

Little bit of nightmarish History of what happened between these cold walls. The first prisoner of the Gaol was a priest: Father Owen McFee. He was locked because of his faith and mainly because he continued to saying Catholic Masses while he had been banished. After having spent some times in the jail, as a lot of other prisoners, he was sent to the Americas.  

In those days, living in a jail was worse than being homeless, living conditions was terrible and prisoners wasn’t considered as human beings. The functioning of all the jails was the same: gaolers received a salary from the Government and they had to buy food, bedding, heat, lighting and clothing to prisoners. The main problem was that the majority of these jailors were corrupted and good candidate to be locked in these cells. If things weren’t like they wanted them to be, gaolers could become crazy and because the jail system wasn’t well or even not supervised, they could do everything they wanted to prisoners. The only way to get a better life in the gaol was to pay the gaoler, however the majority of prisoners couldn’t afford to pay them...  

A terrible thing in Wicklow Gaol was the fact that there was no separation between men and women neither between different type of crimes prisoners... So you could find in the same cell a loafs thieve and a murderer, or woman and a rapist. Because of this situation, you can easily imagine that some of these prisoners had a terrible experience in the jail, even worse that if they were sent to Hell... In 1760s, the prison system was reformed and for instance, prisoners were separated according to their crime, gender... but things took times. More, with so many rebellions, Wicklow Gaol was soon full and Government needed to find a solution because the walls threaten to collapse! This solution was banishment, so many prisoners who were sent to Wicklow was banished and sent to the Americas and other British colonies. These prisoners were sent to the world’s end and would never come back, here is the signification of the Gaol surname: “The Gate of Hell”: you go inside and people would never see you again...  

Some other terrifying facts: when one prisoner had the Gaol Fever, gaolers would just leave the prisoner in his cell with the other waiting them to be all dead to avoid to be infected; when prisoners were hanged, the body was buried but the head was left to be eaten by hawks. One of the most terrifying facts is that children could be locked in Wicklow Gaol, with all the other prisoners! The youngest prisoner to be condemned to banishment was 11, Mary Wade was in prison because she had stolen clothes to sell them to a pawnbroker; the youngest prisoner was an 8 year-old-boy. Thomas Pitt was locked for one week because he had stolen two shillings, he was even whipped for this! Punishments were the same for everyone, even for children...  

Because of all these facts, it is believable that Wicklow Gaol is haunted by all the unlucky souls which had spent time in this gaol... Different visitors and staff members of the jail have seen, in the school room, a young boy who stands in the room. There is also a young lady all dressed in black around the cell 22, and sometimes you can see a haze enveloping the first-floor cells... Once, during the visit of the cell 12, which was the one of Billy Byrne, a woman just lost consciousness. She explained later that she felt a pressure on her neck and she wasn’t able to breathe... In fact, Billy was hanged in the prison...   

Because of all these terrible stories, which are part of the History, guides not always tell everything to visitors. Not everyone can put up with horrific things like these. However, Wicklow Gaol is a Historical place and had a huge importance in the Irish History.  

 

Written By: Mathilde from StayPlanet