20 December-Carlow Gaol

Carlow gaol in Carlow town, Ireland was built in 1800. It replaced an older gaol (bridewell) which was located nearby. It operated as a gaol until 1897 when it was closed and sold to Thomas Thompson. Thompson based his engineering business, Hanover Works in the gaol. Thompsons moved their manufacturing plant to a new premises about 5km north of Carlow town in 2005. The Hanover Works site is now Carlow Shopping Centre. The main gate to the gaol is the Barrack Street entrance to the shopping centre. This gate was the place where public hangings took place. Immediately inside the gate the original Governors House still stands.

In the eighteenth century each county in Ireland was obliged under the law to have its own prison. The prison was located in the main town in the county. By all accounts these prisons were desperate places. An English prison reformer John Howard visited jails in Great Britain, Ireland and Europe. He found prisons in general to be miserable, cruel and overcrowded institutions. He described Ireland ‘as savage as the inland parts of Russia’. In a report on the prisons he said he never saw abuses worse than those in Ireland. Beginning in 1775 Howard made five trips to Ireland and in 1786 the Regulation of Prisons Bill was passed which established an inspector of prisons. The inspector was obliged to carry out inspections every two years. The inspector also agreed budgets with the prison authorities for feeding the prisoners and for the maintenance of prisons.

Following their establishment, the Inspectors-General of Prisons carried out prescribed inspections of Carlow Gaol and issued a report. In the report for 1861 Inspector John Lentaigne noted the ‘remarkable and continued decrease in crime in the quiet and peaceable County of Carlow’. His report showed that only 13 male and 9 female prisoners were in custody in Carlow Gaol. Over 20 years previously the annual inspection was carried out by Inspector Major Palmer. At the time of his inspection the gaol had 66 prisoners in custody. The inspector expressed his pleasure with everything he observed.

Inspector of prisons Major Palmer carried out his inspection of Carlow gaol in the year 1837 On This Day.

Carlow Shopping Centre (Barrack Street Entrance), formerly Thompsons Hanover Works and previously Carlow Gaol


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