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Women and Children in Prisons in Dublin Ireland

Updated on October 3, 2020
viking305 profile image

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Sad History of an Irish Building

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.

The story of women and children in Irish prisons in Dublin
The story of women and children in Irish prisons in Dublin | Source

Grangegorman Penitentiary

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.

Grangegorman Original Prison Doors
Grangegorman Original Prison Doors | Source

Irish Convicts

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.

Transportation of women and children to Australia as Convicts

Corporal Punishment was common in Irish Jails
Corporal Punishment was common in Irish Jails | Source

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.

Conditions for women and children in The Richmond Penitentiary in Dublin Ireland

Grangegorman Female Prison
Grangegorman Female Prison | Source

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.

Margaret Aylward had to endure terrible conditions in prison at the Grangegorman Penitentiary.

Margaret Aylward
Margaret Aylward | Source

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.

The Richmond Penitentiary becomes a temporary Cholera hospital 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.

Sources for Irish Convicts Article

  • To Hell or to Hobart. Patrick Howard. 1993
  • The Fatal Shore. Robert Hughes. 1988
  • Letter Book. Con L B 1. 26th May - 3rd Feb 1851. National Archives.
  • Botany Bay. The story of the convicts transported from Ireland to Australia 1791 - 1853. Con Costello. 1987
  • The Workhouses of Ireland. The fate of Ireland's poor. John O'Connor. 1995
  • The Great Hunger. Cecil Woodham Smith. 1981
  • Kilmainham Gaol Document Pack. Blackrock Teachers Centre. 1992
  • Irish Convicts. The Origins of Convicts Transported to Australia. Bob Reece. 1989
  • Australia Her Story. Kylie Tennant. 1971
  • Prisons 1/9/7. Registry of Female Convicts Grangegorman Female Penitentiary. 11 July 1840 - 22 December 1853. National Archives.
  • Transportation Database National Archives. Dublin
  • Daniel Cuddihy Petition. CRF 1843 C53. National Archives
  • Wicklow's Historical Gaol 1702 - 1924. Web Site.
  • The Sisters of Charity ( RSC ) 1838. Web Site.
  • Elizabeth Dolan Brisbane Australia.
  • Maureen Martin. Australia.

Sources for Margaret Aylward Article

  • Margaret Aylward Petition. CRF 1861 A1 National Archives.
  • Lady of Charity, Sister of Faith. Margaret Aylward 1810 - 1889. Jacinta Prunty. 1999
  • The Lost Children. A study of charity children in Ireland 1700 - 1900. Joseph Robins.
  • Lady of Charity, Sister of Faith. Margaret Aylward 1810 - 1889. Jacinta Prunty. 1999

Sources for Cholera Article

  • A Candle was lit. Life of Mary Aikenhead. Margery Bayley.
  • The Life and work of Mary Aikenhead. By a member of the congregation.
  • The Irish Sisters of Charity. Centenary Brochure.
  • Mary Aikenhead A woman for all seasons. Katherine Butler RSC. 1984
  • Mother Mary Aikenhead. Catherine Rynne. 1980
  • Dublin Slums. 1800 - 1925. A Study in Urban Geography. Jacinta Prunty.
  • Directory 1848. An Oifig Taifead Poibli BB1
  • 1901 Census. Stanhope Street Convent and Boarding School. National Archives, Dublin.
  • 1911 Census. Stanhope Street Convent and Boarding School. National Archives.
  • Sister Patricia. Principal St Joseph's primary School. Stanhope Street.

Sources for Women and Children in Prisons

  • The History of Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland 1995.
  • Dublin Slums. 1800 - 1925. A Study in Urban Geography. Jacinta Prunty.
  • Directory 1848. An Oifig Taifead Poibli BB1
  • Stoneybatter. Dublins Inner Urban Village. Kevin C Kearns. 1989.
  • Dublin 7 A Local History. Bernard Neary. 1992.
  • Wicklow's Historical Gaol 1702 - 1924.


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    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      17 months ago from Ireland

      Hello Thomas, yes there is a lot of history in the walls of that building. I agree it is a shame that it is not so well known

    • profile image

      thomas mcgrath 

      18 months ago

      i work in grangegorman and have found many people asking me about the prison and many other questions about other buildings beside it . thank you for the information you have given me in what i read above i will be able to pass this on to those that may ask. i get often asked about the former hospital beside it and the records of those that were kept there as both the hospital and prison go hand in hand with each other . i have been as about the jail being a mother toddler jail and were the children went if not with their mother on transportation to australia . i wish talks could be given to the now present staff so that they may pass on information to those that ask

    • profile image

      Denece Sippo 

      3 years ago

      My ancestor Mary Ann Timoney was a prisoner at Grangegorman in 1843. She was tried in Tyrone on 12 Jan 1943 for stealing a coat and sent there until she embarked on the 'East London' which left Dublin 1 May 1843 arriving in Hobart on 21 Sept 1843. She married William Nibbs a Swing Rioter from Buckinhamshire in 1845 whilst still serving her sentence. They raised a large family and there are many descendants scattered across Australia. Mary had 4 brothers and a sister, we wonder what happened to them.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Yes this building in Dublin has a lot of horror stories to tell. Irish history is important to be remembered, acknowledged and kept alive. But so is the history of your own ancestors where ever you are in the world.

      We are what we are today because of our ancestors and what they did. I speak English as my first language and not Irish because of the history of my country

      Thank you Garnetbird and samiaali for reading and taking the time to leave a comment and vote

    • samiaali profile image


      8 years ago

      I am so glad that you did write about this atrocity. It is bad enough that these poor, unfortunate people had to endure so much suffering, but to forget about it would be even worse. These types of injustices should never be forgotten. Thank you for a very informative and interesting article. I vote it up!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Heartbreaking..riveting account and a good tribute to those who have suffered. I spent two weeks in Dublin, Ireland and am half Irish. I really feel for these stories as my ancestors were devout Catholics. Can you believe suicides were put in prison to add to their misery and depression and hopelessness? Barbaric. Good Hub.


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