County Mayo – A History of Imprisonment, Capital Punishment & Transportation. Part 1: Anatomy of a County Gaol.
In January 1918, the hanging tree on the Green in Castlebar, already stooped with age, finally succumbed to the burden of the history thrust upon it when it toppled in a storm. The following year, the last of the gaols of Mayo, ceased to be a formal prison within the British prison system. The story of the several gaols of Mayo is largely untold and what is told is confused or blended with a colourful mix of half-truths.
Beginning in the late sixteenth century, this study seeks to disentangle the facts from this body of folklore. The gaols at Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Prizon, Cong and elsewhere are considered in the social, economic, and political environment in which they operated including in the context of the many epidemics, famines, rebellions, and periods of agrarian violence. Over and above the incredible detail of prisoners, prison life, and the regulation and operation of the gaols of Mayo, the surviving records also contain many accounts of exceptionally cruel deeds and practices. Women, children, and the mentally ill, were subjected to the most dehumanising treatment imaginable at detention centres operated by the Mayo Grand Jury. In addition to the poor, the destitute and the bankrupt, the gaols of Mayo also held men and women who had committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Between 1805 and 1919, some 196 death sentences were handed down by the judiciary at courts in Castlebar and Ballinrobe. Those sentenced to death included pregnant women, children, and the elderly. For those who avoided the gallows, dying by their own hand or terms of imprisonment, a future in Botany Bay or Van Diemen's Land lay ahead of a long and dangerous journey.
Some of the questions answered in this 544-page study include the following:
- Where and When were the many Gaols of County Mayo?
- how many Gaols were there in Castlebar?
- What role did the Mayo Grand Jury play in the operation of Gaols in the county?
- What did prison reformer John howard find when he visited Castlebar in 1788?
- Who was in the Old Gaol on the Green, Castlebar when the French arrived in 1798 and in the months, weeks, and years after the collapse of the Rebellion?
- Who did the military appoint as gaoler over military and political prisoners at Castlebar & Ballinrobe after the 1798 Rebellion?
- What happened to the forty Threshers held in the Old Gaol on the Green in 1806?
- Who did Highwayman Captain Gallagher and his associates ask to see before they were hanged?
- What were prison conditions like for women and children in the gaols of Castlebar and elsewhere?
- Where was the first asylum for persons with mental disorders in County Mayo?
- What were conditions like for debtors at the marshalsea gaols?
- Who was the most corrupt gaoler in castlebar?
- Why were there so many escapes from the gaols of Castlebar and Ballinrobe?
- How did authorities respond to outbreaks of cholera, typhus and other deadly diseases at the gaols of Castlebar and Ballinrobe?
- What role did the hanging tree on the Green, Castlebar play in executions post 1798?
- how many sets of brothers were hanged at Ballinrobe and Castlebar in the 19th century?
- What happened when pregnant women were sentenced to death at Castlebar Courthouse?
- Why did a hangman offer to hang others before he himself was hanged?
- How many of the 196 people sentenced to death in Mayo between 1805 & 1919 were hanged and what were their names?
- Why did over 6,000 panic-stricken people flee the Green, Castlebar during a hanging?
- Why were the Gaols of Mayo considered to be the worst in Ireland in the late 1820s and 1830s?
- What happened to prisoners sentenced to transportation at Castlebar & Ballinrobe?
Dr. Michael O’Connor is a native of Tully, a small village nearBelcarra in Co. Mayo. He attended Belcarra N.S and St. Gerald’s De La Salle College, Castlebar. He holds first class honours degrees in law from both Trinity College Dublin and University of Cambridge; and a Doctorate in Philosophy (Law) from Trinity College Dublin. His interests include social history, crime and punishment in the Georgian and Victorian periods, genealogy, archaeology, and travel.
County Mayo - A History of Imprisonment, Capital Punishment & Transportation. Part 1: Anatomy of a County Gaol
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