Wicklow’s historic jail was only a thirty minute drive from our hotel. The literature made it sound great and interesting at the same time, we decided this was a must see. Right in the centre of Wicklow town, we found it relatively easily – we paid our 8 Euro each for Husband and me and 5 Euro for Son and stepped inside.
The jail was built in 1702 and I have to say, right from the second you walk inside the door it feels incredibly creepy and strange. The history is a story of crime, exile and misery, from the Rebellion of 1798 to the horrors of the Potato Famine right up to prison reform and eventual closure in 1900. As far as jails go this one is well worth a visit.
We were sent through to a waiting room and told our guide would be with us shortly. Son found it all extremely creepy and was none too happy. He and I both nearly jumped out of our skin at a wax figure lying over a table and a very realistic stuffed rat. A group of Irish pensioners came in shortly afterwards laughing, chuckling and full of fun. They messed around with the rats, were super naughty, got up to all sorts of shenanigans and had us in fits of laughter and highly entertained. Never seen anything quite like this, their joie de vivre was wonderful and Son instantly relaxed.
A rather creepy jailer in period costume entered and gave us the run down on the tour. He definitely added to the sense of drama.
The jail opened to deal with prisoners sentenced under the Penal Laws. It was renowned throughout Ireland for the brutality of its keepers and the harsh conditions suffered by its inmates. The smells, beatings and disease ridden air have gone but you definitely still get the feeling of what this place must have been like.
We headed out to the yard and saw the life size treadmill. Horrible to hear the prisoners would have to turn this for hours on end as a punishment.
We were left to do the rest of the jail on a self guided basis. We started in the old cells, each one “housed” a different prisoner and as you entered the cell a sensor tripped and you heard the inmate tell their story. It was fascinating and so well done.
Downstairs they had a recreation of the dungeon – dark, creepy, very spooky and with some grim tales, Son wasn’t keen at all to spend too much time down there.
The convict ship Hercules is recreated on the first floor, again very well done. You hear the harrowing story of the many thousands of Irish prisoners deported to prison colonies in Australia as harsh punishment for often minor offences. Luckyn Betts was the captain, a psychotic man who was unbelievably cruel. They said that six months under his iron rule and most began to see death as a form of mercy.
We emerged on the top floor of the jail, heard stories of the prisoners once they arrived in Australia and then saw the cells as they were in more “modern” times. Lots of stories of political prisoners and we saw a cell where children were educated.
We heard about prison reform and saw some old graffiti.
Son went on ahead alone and came out pale faced and solemn from a cell further along. He read in there how many people considered the jail and that cell to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland. Needless to say he was keen to leave quickly after that. It was the last cell so we did.
A brief look in the gift shop but none of us were tempted by the gory souvenirs. Our visit here had been interesting and intriguing and more than a bit spooky.