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The Cork City Gaol – photos and insight into one of Cork’s best visitor attractions

Cork City Gaol,womens prison cork

Cork City Gaol, Sunday’s Well, Cork

I spent some time in jail recently. That’s right. It was damp and dark, dreary and dull. And, I loved every minute of it!
That’s because the time I spent was in the Cork City Gaol, a well preserved old Irish prison that now serves as a heritage site, on Cork’s northside in an area known as Sunday’s Well.

At one time the gaol was probably one of the most awful places you could visit, and certainly one of the worst places to stay. These days it’s a museum/heritage center that you don’t want to miss if you’re in the area. That’s exactly what I had done for years and years – missed it. I lived just a few miles from here, and have relatives who live round the corner. My dad even went to school right behind the jail, and never once, in my youth, had I set foot in it. Until recently…

I always try to seek out a few new places when I’m back in Cork. There’s so many great places to visit that I never did while living there (e.g the Four Faced Liar), and I can’t afford to let any more time pass without exploring them. I don’t know if it’s an Irish thing, or an everybody thing, but people seem to take things for granted when they’re in their own backyard. I didn’t feel too bad about never having been in the jail when my dad (who was with me at the time) was on his first visit also 🙂

Cork City Gaol

The Prison Governor

If you visit the gaol unannounced, you’ll take a self guided tour. Guided tours are available on request, and there’s a spooky night-time tour available too (I might go back for this). At the admission desk you can take the audio tour, or a booklet to read as you walk through the prison. My dad took the audio tour, I took the booklet as I had my young son with me and wanted to read it to him and cut out any scary bits 🙂 The 2 guides seemed to be identical, and take you on the same path, so if you don’t mind reading along, it might save you some money.

While on the tour you’ll learn some fascinating information about the Gaol itself, the prisoners that were kept there, and the rules and punishments of the gaol. There’s quite a few wax figures of gaol characters (guards and prisoners) throughout the prison, and they are very life-like. They really do add to the experience. As you’re listening/reading the tour details, the figures help illustrate what life was like in the prison back in the 1800s and early 1900s.

As I wandered along and read the guide, I found myself starting to sympathize with the prisoners. Especially the younger ones, or the ones sentenced to spend time in this damp, gloomy, cold place for very minor crimes. Imagine spending time in solitary confinement here for stealing books! That’s what prisoner Thomas Raile is in for. You’ll see him in the picture below, kneeling, praying with a priest. Or how about 9 year old Edward O’Brien. What an earth could a nine year old have done to deserve being under lock and key in this place? He stole 2 brass taps to pawn, and as a result was sentenced to 3 weeks, and to be whipped twice a week! Different times!

Thomas Raile, Cork City prison,gaol

Thomas Raile

History of Cork City Gaol

Building started in 1816 and the Gaol took its first ‘guests’ in 1824 and its last in 1923.
In 1878 under the General Prisons (Ireland) Act, The Gaol became an all female prison. Actually the gaol is still known around Cork as the “women’s prison”.
One part of the prison was used by the Irish national broadcaster, RTE, from 1927 onwards for over 20 years.
Capital punishment has long been consigned to Ireland’s history, but the first execution to take place at the Cork City Gaol was on Saturday 26th April, 1828. Owen Ryan was publicly hanged, over the main entrance, convicted of an assault on a woman.

The Gaol is open year round, but with shorter hours in winter. Check the Cork City Gaol website for the most up-to-date info on times/prices/etc.

Below you’ll see a collection of some of the photos I took at the gaol. I hope you enjoy.

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol – The Doc

The Cork City Gaol – The Wardens

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

The Cork City Gaol

Cork is full of so many other great places to visit. Take a look at some of the other posts on the website before you set off for Ireland’s largest county, and second biggest city.

Have you visited other prisons around Ireland, or in other countries, that now serve as museums? Care to share a little about your visit in the comments? Recommendations of other places to visit are always welcome. Thanks!

11 comments

  1. Hi Liam…as a tourist you go into these places and get a bit of a sense of it but can you really imagine what it was like? And my God! A 9 year old! My dad and I went to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin and were horrified by the stories and conditions. It’s where Michael Collins and his cohorts were imprisoned. There were many people put away there just for being Catholic and Republican!
    On the other hand, they were beautifully constructed Edwardian buildings. Apparently the acoustics were so good in Kilmainham that the guards could here even the slightest whisper from any prisoner, anywhere!

    • Hi Kerry

      You’re so right. We can’t really get a feel for what it was like. I’m sure it must’ve been worse than we can even imagine. Especially when you consider a lack of heating, warm food, facilities etc.
      Thanks for your tip on Kilmainham. Spent an afternoon there too quite a few years back. My most vivid memory is of the Hanging room. It really gave me shudders.

      Liam

  2. Love this! Looks much like a castle than a gaol, until you go inside that is! Just toured vicariously thru your experience. Thx!

    • Sandi
      It most certainly feels like a jail when you’re inside. Not too pleasant a place at all I’d say, back when it was used for that purpose.

      Cheers,
      Liam

  3. Hope you didn’t spend all day in Gaol and got the chance to explore the rest of Cork? The Titanic Experience in Cobh is well worth a visit as is Fota House and Gardens.

  4. The Gaol is definitely worth a visit. I went there on a particularly quiet day, and walking around there on my own with all those mannequins around was pretty eerie!

  5. Thank you for these beautiful photos and your comment about the prison. I will go there next April with a group of 52 14-year-old pupils. i think they wil be interested. Your blog will be very useful to me for the preparation of the school-trip.

    Elé

    • Hi Ele
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos and happy to hear you’re going to go visit the jail. It’s a great experience. Enjoy your trip.

      Liam