Stories of Women and Children in an Irish Prison in Ireland
History of an Irish Prison
Four articles about women and children who were imprisoned in one jail in Ireland. Over a hundred and fifty years ago the fate of the poor and desperate Irish people was a harsh one.
Transportation to Australia Twelve year old children were among Irish convicts sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia in 1840’s Ireland
- Very Young Prisoners Young children who were imprisoned at the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in 1841. Their age, crime and sentences. This sentence often meant being given twelve lashes of a whip once a week.
- An Irish Nun Margaret Aylward was an Irish nun who served a sentence of six months there in 1860. Her terrible ordeal at the hands of the warden.
- Cholera epidemic . The Cholera epidemic hit Ireland in 1832. This building was no longer a prison and had closed down. It became a temporary hospital with over fifty Dublin people a day dying from the disease here at Grangegorman.
Have you ever walked past a large old building and wondered what it was used for years ago. I have, in fact I do it all the time, it must be the writer in me. Before the invention of the internet I would go to the library and museums to see what I could find out. The long forgotten history of the people who occupied these buildings was usually well documented.
To me anyway the stories of what happened in these places and what they were used for needed to be told so that the history of the Irish people were not lost in those silent forgotten places. One such imposing building is the Richmond Penitentiary that was built nearly two hundred years ago to be used as a prison.
The Richmond Penitentiary for both male and female prisoners was built in 1816. It was later to become the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary. One part of it is now used by the Health Service Executive Department for the Dublin 7 area. The other part is used by Dublin Refuse Collection.
This is the story of the 171 women and children who spent three months here in 1848. These Irish convicts had been held at Grangegorman Female Prison before starting their journey to Australia. Twelve year old children were among Irish convicts sentenced to seven years transportation to Australian 1840’s Ireland.
I have concentrated on one convict ship that left Dublin in 1848, ‘The John Calvin’. It had one hundred and seventy one Irish female convicts on board. These Irish women and children had spent three months at the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in Dublin before their departure.
They must have been terrified when they arrived at the large iron gates of the prison. They came from all over Ireland after being sentenced for their crimes. I have a list of all these prisoners, where they were born, their age, crime and sentence. Some women with very young children were allowed to bring them along too.
Bridget Cuddihy and her Daughters
This mother was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia and so were her three grown up daughters. They must have been very apprehensive about what awaited them on their journey and arrival to Australia but did in fact commit their crimes with the hope of conviction and transportation. I explain why in the article.
I am also in contact with a direct decent of Bridget Cuddihy in Australia today. Liz Dolan has given me invaluable information on what happened to Bridget, her daughters and their descendants. You can read this article by clicking on the link below.
Children in Prison at Richmond Penitentiary
When women and children were sentenced to time in prison in Ireland in the 1800's they would often be also given other punishments by the court. As part of the punishment some prisoners including young children were also whipped once a week.
Other punishments included the Treadmill and Shot Drill. I have photos of these two terrible forms of punishment and explain how the prisoners suffered. I give an example of some young children who were imprisoned at the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in 1841. Also their age, crime and sentences.
Sentenced to Sixty Lashes
Michael and Patrick Reilly were brothers of 12 and 13 years old. They were found guilty of stealing three ducks and a hen. They were sentenced to three weeks in prison and sixty lashes. They were whipped each week receiving twenty lashes in one go.
Mick Kearney and his brother, 12 and 9 were found guilty of stealing money. They got four weeks in prison and were whipped once a week. Local women who tried to commit suicide were also sent to the prison for their ‘crime’. I explore three such women and their lives. To read more of the conditions in prisons in Ireland and some of the women and children who suffered click the link below for the full article.
Margaret Aylward in Prison for Six Months
She spent those terrible months at Grangegorman Female Penitentiary. The Irish Catholic nun who was Mother Superior of the Irish Sisters of the Holy Faith was accused of kidnapping a small child. She was innocent of that charge and was convicted of Contempt of Court.
Ireland at that time was under the rule of the British Government. Just a few years before the court case it was against the law for Catholics to practice their religion. The Irish children were not allowed to go to schools other than the Protestant ones.
The laws had since been relaxed but children were picked up off the streets and held in special schools. They were punished if they spoke their own Irish language. These 'Charter Schools' had been in Ireland for over a hundred years
St Brigid's Orphanage
Margaret Aylward opened St Brigid's Orphanage in 1857. This was with the intention of fostering the children to Irish Catholic families. She did not want the children to become victims like the 10,000 babies who died in the Dublin Foundling Hospital.
Here foster families were paid to take the children into their own homes and rear them for a few years. With the intention of bringing the children back for schooling some years later. Most of these babies never made it. The difference with Margaret's plan was that the foster families were vetted and had to show they were willing to look after the children properly.
They were visited regularly to make sure the children were looked after. The child that Margaret Aylward was accused of kidnapping was Mary Matthews. She was ordered to bring the child to court but could not so was found guilty of contempt of court.
The full story of the case, what happened to the child and who was responsible are explained in this article. I have a photocopy of an original letter sent by this Irish nun to the authorities while in the prison.
Irish Cholera Epidemic in 1832
The Richmond Penitentiary in Dublin had closed down in 1832 when the Cholera epidemic struck Ireland. Ten of thousands of Irish people died from the Cholera Epidemic in 1832 in Ireland: The people in Dublin were very badly hit by the disease. The hospitals were full and there was nowhere else left to put the sick and dying. So the building at Stoneybatter which used to be a prison, The Richmond Penitentiary. was re-opened as one of the temporary hospitals for the patients.
Symptoms of Cholera
From the first symptoms of cholera to death could be only a few hours and the people of Ireland were in a panic as everyone around them seemed to be dying. The doctors and nurses were also dying just as quick. It got to the stage where there was very little care staff left to see to the patients. In one five day period during the epidemic over six hundred people with the disease were admitted to the Grangegorman Cholera Hospital.
The old prison in Stoneybatter only had the prison beds in it so this added to the misery inside. Down the road from the hospital was a convent of the Sisters of Charity in Stanhope Street. When the epidemic was at its worst the Government could find no one to look after the dying so they asked the nuns to help.
The Convent sent nuns up to the hospital and it was these Irish nuns who took the journey up to the building every day to nurse the sick. But at the height of the Cholera epidemic over fifty Dublin people a day died from the disease at Grangegorman Hospital. In all there were over 50,000 deaths in Ireland from Cholera in 1832.
Grangegorman Female Penitentiary
The Richmond Penitentiary also known as the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary was an Irish prison that had men; women and children pass through its large iron gates. Some were then transported to Australia as convicts never to return to their home country.
The prisoners were brutally beaten and punished no matter what their age. This building in Stoneybatter is still used today as offices and a depot nearly two hundred years after it was built.
The large iron gates that so many of these prisoners passed through have been preserved. When I pass any old building I am always intrigued by its past. When I did the research on the old Richmond Penitentiary and its many forced inhabitants I was compelled to write about them.