Undoubtedly, the history of Tullamore jail would make a book in itself for besides the mundane occurrences which are themselves worthy of historical analysis there were a few extraordinary events such as the imprisonment of some of those involved in the Plan of Campaign including William O'Brien and John Mandeville. A study of the gaol might also involve a study of the pattern and frequency of crime in the last century.
Homicide, almost always caused by land trouble was not uncommon and the penalty for it execution by hanging-up to 1868 in public and thereafter in private, is of interest for the public attitudes that awful spectacle evoked. I propose to look at the early history of the gaol and how its internal construction was influenced by then current ideas in prison reform. This will be followed by a look at the O'Brien-Mandeville case, the burning of the gaol in 1922. The gaol at Tullamore was one of a number built in the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of Acts of Parliament of 1810 and 1826. These acts sought "to fix uniform and fairly high standards of prison administration". The grand juries were responsible for the erection of county gaols but now they had to submit plans for the approval of the lord lieutenant "who might on the faith of county presentments advance money for their construction from the consolidated fund". Further to this, each county was to appoint a board of superintendence made up of eight to twelve members, half of whom were to be justices of the peace. Limerick model In 1820 the King's County Grand Jury appointed a committee "to fix upon a site and procure plans for a county gaol". A report on the Philipstown (Daingean) gaol, then the county gaol, found it to be out of touch with the reforming spirit: "On the whole the establishment seems adapted to further corruption of the prisoners and increase of vice and crime from the want of all power of classification, inspection and employment". It was agreed that Philipstown was an unsuitable place in which to build the new county gaol because of the boggy terrain. The grand jury's committee then set about examining the new county gaols which had been built in accordance with the new improved prison standards. The Galway county gaol with its crescentic shape and the Roscommon gaol which was polygonal in shape and built upon the radiating plan were passed over in favour of that of Limerick which was completed in 1821 at a cost of about £25,000. This gaol was designed by James Pain and the King's County Grand Jury decided to adopt the Limerick plan but with some alternations including the lessening of its extent by about two-fifths. Pain, with his brother George Richard designed a prison at Cork and several important country houses including Mitchelstown, Dromoland and Castle Bernard at Kinnitty. Plans for the new gaol at Tullamore were exhibited at the Spring Assizes of 1825. Some minor alterations to Pain's plan were suggested by Francis Johnston, architect to the Board of Works.
The alternations were carried out and the prison opened in April 1830, the prisoners having been conveyed by canal barge from Philipstown. Some months earlier the board of superintendence appointed by the grand jury drew up a code of bye-laws for the prison with the assistance of Major Palmer, an inspector general of prisons. The prisoners were to be classified and separated according to the type of offence, and sex. The male prisoners were to be employed in breaking stones and at the tread mill, the board being of the opinion that "without full and constant employment for every prisoner, no essential good can result in gaol discipline as to its two great objects, viz. punishment and reformation". Rudimentary education was also to be provided with a schoolmaster and the turnkeys (warders) acting as instructors. A potato diet for the prisoners was recommended on the grounds of economy.
As has already been stated the prisoners were transferred from Daingean in April 1830 and the first report of the board of superintendence was made to the grand jury in July of that year: The board noted that: As this was the first attempt at gaol discipline in the King's County, the prisoners when ordered to work, made violent opposition, some of them refused to obey and became refractory, but steady and cool remonstrance, with a few instances of solitary confinement brought them to a sense of duty". The female prisoners were employed in "spinning, knitting, making shirts, repairing clothes and washing for the entire gaol; two hours each day are appropriated for school so that no time is allowed for idleness, that constant source of vice". The gaol was built to accommodate 120 prisoners but during the Famine years the number "accommodated" rose dramatically and in 1849 the gaol had 321 inmates. Many had committed petty offences in order to get into gaol to be fed.
The Tullamore gaol of which nothing survives now but its castellated entrance front was erected in 1830. The Queen's County [Co. Laois] gaol at Portlaoise was erected to a similar design and opened in the same year and of course, continues to function.
The King's County grand jury after visiting several gaols and inspecting the plans of others "considered the prison lately built in Limerick as possessed of more of the desirable requisites and fewer defects than any other". The Limerick prison designed by James Pain was adopted as a model with some alterations including a lessening of its extent by two-fifths.
However, the question, presents itself as to where the plan for Tullamore gaol was originally derived from. A probable answer is the Welsh gaols of John Nash. Before coming to Ireland James Pain has served in the office of John Nash. Sir John Summerson, the architectural historian, in his Life of Nash recalls how prison reform in Great Britain followed on the publication of John Howard's indictment of the prison system. Comparisons may be drawn between provincial gaols in England and Wales as described by Howard and gaols in Ireland. In a report on Philipstown (Daingean) gaol in 1800 it was stated by the inspector: "I visited this gaol last November and found it dirty beyond the power of description in every part. The floors are so very bad in all the apartments that they can never be scraped or washed, and it is useless to whitewash the prison as the walls are perfectly black with smoke...". Following recommendations by Howard a new gaol was built at Carmarthen, Wales in the period 1789-92 to a design by John Nash. "Howard's recommendations here as elsewhere, involved long galleried buildings with cells on both floors, meeting at a square vestibule with windows in the splayed angles..." Soon after two more gaols were erected to designs by Nash one at Cardigan and the other at Hereford. The latter consisted of four galleried wings joined a square lobby. These gaols like many of the period were designed "on the plan of solitary confinement recommended by Mr. Howard".
In building Tullamore gaol some attempt was made to introduce separate confinement. The gaol had 112 cells but with the increasing number of prisoners in the 1840s attempts to achieve the separate system of confinement had to be abandoned. By 1849 the number of prisoners reached 321. This dropped sharply in the 1850's and in 1854 the board of superintendence was able to report that the average number of prisoners was down to 123. In the meantime eight cells for females designed on the separate system had been constructed in addition to what was already available.
Further alterations were carried out in the 1860's at a cost of over £3,000 to enable the separate system of prison disciplined to be carried out. In the report of the board of superintendence to the grand jury assembled at the Spring Assizes 1867 it was stated that: "The works contemplated by the presentment are now completed in a most satisfactory manner. There are 71 cells, each 13' 10" x 6' x 9'-788.5 cubic feet (the old cells only contained 484.5 cubic feet) all of which are capable of being heated in cold weather by hot water pipes. Each cell is most thoroughly ventilated, and at the end of each range of cells there are lavatories, a bath, and a water-closet.
Communications have been made with the gaol chapel, and the whole plan is so arranged, that any intercourse between the prisoners and the subordinate officers will be under the immediate supervision of the superior officers.
Plan of Campaign
Tullamore prison gained a considerable notoriety in the 1880's when the leading Plan of Campaign prisoners William O'Brien, John Mandeville and T.D. Sullivan were incarcerated there. The tragic death of John Mandeville and of the prison doctor Ridley is a notorious chapter in the history of the 1880's. Following the gradual settlement of the land question the gaol declined although there was an occasional fillip as in 1913 when some of the suffragettes were sent to Tullamore. When in 1915 the General Prisons Board contemplated closing the gaol the Tullamore Urban District Council resisted the idea as it would mean they said a loss of £2,000 to local traders.
The Civil War
The goal and also the nearby court-house were taken over during the Anglo-Irish war by the British military. Quite a number of Irishmen were kept here before being sent to prisons elsewhere during that troubled period. By November 1921 all the prisoners had been removed to Mountjoy excepting a certain Sean Mahon of Banagher and presumably he was the last prisoner the gaol held. The goal and the Courthouse nearby were destroyed in 1922 during the Civil War. The place was sand bagged by the Republicans in anticipation of an attack by the National army. However, on Thursday morning of 19th July 1922 the gaol, courthouse and the barrack were set on fire by the departing Republican Force.
A considerable amount of looting by Tullamore people followed and when Salts [a Yorkshire textile firm] decided to erect a spinning mill here in 1937 the place was only a shell. The site of the gaol was cleared in 1937-'38 by Messrs. Thompson of Carlow, the contractors for the new building, the cost of which was about £78,000. Plans for the new mill were provided by T.J. Cullen of Suffolk Street, Dublin.
The Story of Salts (Ireland) Ltd., later known as Tullamore Yarns Ltd. is part of local contemporary history. Salts provided upwards of a thousand jobs at Tullamore in the Spinning Mill at its height in the mid 1960's. However, the recession in textiles in the 1970's led to the closure of the mill in December 1982 with the loss of 200 jobs that year. In April 1985 the premises which includes some 200,000 square feet of covered buildings was sold to John Flanagan for a figure in the region of £400,000. It has since been let successfully as units for small businesses and as such has been a significant boost and facility to the local economy.
Lord Tullamore's Letter
Lord Tullamore, eldest son of the earl of Charleville, was very much involved in the political manoeuvring that apparently was necessary to obtain support for the building of a gaol and later a court house at Tullamore. In a letter to his step-brother in 1826 he gives us an amusing account of the foundation stone of the gaol: "I feel it will give you great pleasure to hear that the first stone is laid, and of my great success. I shall leave others to describe the scene. I feel it is impossible to do justice to it, and to you it will appear impossible as you did not witness it .. the lowest calculation makes the multitude amount to 30,000. Mr. Killaly (the engineer) says between 70,000 and 100,000 and is so convinced he is right he is going to measure the ground they covered and make a calculation .. Such dense, enormous masses of well-dressed, orderly good-humoured people, such extraordinary enthusiasm; when I addressed them, you might have heard a pin fall, and the enthusiastic shouts of applause were tremendous. Everything went off beyond my most sanguine expectations; and after the ceremony I was chaired in a crimson and gilt chair, covered with laurels, and in my life anything like the wild shouting, I never saw or could have imagined. The town, every single house, was illuminated, many most tastefully ... A beautiful fire-balloon with my arms etc. was sent up, so constructed as to discharge fireworks and have the appearance of a fiery meteor. To be fair to Lord Tullamore not that he needs anyone to speak for him, he did play a major part in having the gaol and court house built at Tullamore. In regard to the number attending the ceremony it should be remembered that prior to the Famine the population of the county was about 150,000 or three times the present figure.
A valuable record of the inmates of Tullamore jail from 1865 to its closing in 1922 is available in the National Archives, Dublin. The prison was virtually closed in April 1916 when its status was altered to that of a remand prison. At that time most of the prison officials were transferred to other prisons in the country. Its only prisoners at the time were 13 young Sinn Feiners charged in connection with the affray at William Street, when the 'first short was fired' etc. about which more at another time.
The burning of Tullamore Gaol
The following contemporary account of the burning of Tullamore Gaoll was published in the Offaly Independent in July 1922. The Republican forces were at the time called the 'Irregulars'. The Treaty was signed in London in December 1921 and the division over it began almost immediately with Civil War from June 1922 with the seizure and attach on the Four Courts. The Republican forces were weak in the midlands and there were no major military engagements here. The British military and police had vacated the barracks in March 1922. "The irregular forces occupying the jail and old police barracks in Tullamore evacuated both buildings early on Thursday morning before setting fire to and burning them before they left. They also burned the County Courthouse, a massive structure of ancient Greek architecture, which stood adjacent to the jail. Both the jail and the police barracks were in the occupation of the irregular forces since the split in the IRA and prior to the election, when trouble seemed imminent, both buildings were strongly garrisoned. On Wednesday armed guards were placed on all the bridges entering the town and motor cars passing in were held up and supplies of petrol commandeered. This unusual activity and vigilance on the part of the irregulars were interpreted as an indication of evacuation, and rumour went around the town late on Wednesday afternoon that the Barracks was to be evacuated and blown up.
The first indication of the evacuation was shortly before midnight, when armed men patrolled the street, and were apparently holding up belated stragglers. The police barrack was shortly afterwards noticed in flames and the occupants of all the houses in the vicinity being alarmed were soon on the street and fleeing about in terror as it was feared explosives would be used in the destruction of the building. The Courthouse was also set on fire about the same time, and was soon a mass of roaring flame. The Governor's quarters in the prison and the front entrance portion of the building were also fired. The inner building containing the cells was wrecked, attempts to fire it having been unsuccessful. The woodwork of the two hospital buildings at the rere was destroyed, but otherwise they are intact. The execution room, a wooden shed near the condemned cell, escaped attention. It was still intact when viewed on Thursday morning when nothing but the walls of the Governor's house remained. The damage caused by the burning of the three buildings is estimated at about half a million pounds sterling. The jail was a splendid structure as was also the Courthouse, both of which were erected in the twenties of the nineteenth century. The police barracks was also a spacious building and was erected in the reign of George the Third, as a military barracks. It was occupied in 1800 by Hanoverian troops and was continued in use as a military barracks until about forty years ago, when Tullamore ceased to be a military station. Later is was utilised as a RIC [Royal Irish Constabulary] barracks. In the days of the trouble with England, the Courthouse and jail were occupied by British troops and early this year in accordance with the terms of the Treaty when these buildings were being evacuated they were handed over to the IRA as representing the Provisional Government. Local battalions of the IRA occupied both jail and police barracks, the latter being the headquarters of Offaly No. 1 Brigade.
The wanton destruction of these fine buildings, the property of the nation, is bitterly resented by the people of Tullamore who were, however, in a helpless condition and unable to prevent it. Owing to the great need for housing in the town, an effort was made by the Urban Council to secure the old police barrack for housing accommodation shortly after its evacuation by the RIC and it was hoped that it would have been spared.
All the documents and books relating to the administration of the County, which were in the County Council office, have been destroyed, as are also all the documents in the office of the Clerk of the Crown and Peace, which was situated on the ground floor. The destruction of the Courthouse will entail considerable loss to the ratepayers of the County, and will hamper the carrying on of administrative business."