This photograph of Galway Gaol was taken in the late thirties from McDonogh's Mill in Nun's Island. There is a quiet stillness about the place, as the jingling of warder's keys had been silenced forever. The area in the foreground was the town prison. Part of the basement provided living quarters for the keeper and his family. The ground floor and first floor were all cells, and the top floor was a solitary confinement block. To the right of this building (out of picture) was a yard referred to as the bone yard. Behind that, on the top right of this picture, was another yard with a treadmill. The large building which can be seen on the top left was The County Gaol, a horseshoe shaped structure made out of stone and iron, no timber was used.
The gaols were built at the beginning of the 19th century. Construction was conditional on a right of way, the road all around the walls, also being built. It was a large site which took up most of Nun's Island. Inside the horseshoe building there were various yards, some of which had circles, or 'rings' around which prisoners exercised. There was no exercise if it was raining heavily. There were a number of workshops for prisoners, and a central wooden hut for warders, from which they had a clear view of the occupants of every labour shed. They learnt things like boot making and stone carving.
The execution chamber was above the cookhouse. Between it and the condemned cells were 2 rooms for unmarried warders. There was a library room where Monsignor Considine used to hear confessions. It differed from most other rooms accessible to prisoners in that it had a fire. A hot pipe passed through every cell, and prisoners used to somehow communicate by tapping on it. The landings and the staircases near the kitchen had to be scrubbed clean by prisoners, who often found this excruciating because of the smell of cooking food. The food regime varied: on Christmas morning, 1881, each prisoner had a dry loaf and a sausage for breakfast.
The two prisons merged circa 1870. In 1925, it was announced at the Urban District Council that the prison was to close. There were protests, because, as one councillor said "The prison was worth £8,000 a year to the local economy". In fact, there were a lot of complaints about sanitary conditions, overcrowding, and the threat of disease, and the jail eventually closed in May, 1939. The property passed to the County Council, and they in turn conveyed it to Galway Diocesan Trustees on March 15th, 1941.
Some of the famous prisoners who were incarcerated here were Wilfred Scawen Blunt, William Smith O'Brien who wrote "When We Were Boys" here, and Myles Joyce, who was one of those hanged for the Maamtrasna Murders.
The ink was hardly dry on last week's Advertiser when Eoghan O'Cathain supplied us with the two missing names on the St.Mary's Team. They were Pat Coen from Raheen in Gort, and Johnny Whiriskey from Ardrahan. Thank you Eoghan.