Last weekend we attended a talk on Sligo Gaol and the women involved in the Irish revolution and got the opportunity to visit inside the old Sligo jail.
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Sligo Gaol is located in Garavogue villas in Sligo town, next to the Sligo Fire station. It was opened in 1818 and closed in 1956. It housed men and women and also had a debtors prison.
The talk was held in the morning in the Riverside hotel in Sligo town. We heard first from Gary Burke, a local historian, he gave an interesting presentation on women prisoners in Sligo Gaol in 1916. Many of the women, incarcerated in the prison were convicted on charges of drunkenness and petty larceny, prostitution also occurred in Sligo but was tended to be eluded to, under a vagrancy charge called found wandering abroad in the prison record books. In 1916, many Sligo men were fighting in the war and there wives received a separation allowance, which according to local press at the time was spent on alcohol and led to many of the drunkenness charges.
Women in the Revolution
We also heard from Liz Gillis, who is a published author and has published a book entitled the Women of the Irish Revolution, Liz talked extensively on several of the women involved in the Easter Rising, such as Belfast woman, Winnie Carney, who occupied the GPO for the week and worked as a secretary with James Connolly, who he viewed as his equal.
Also, Liz talked about Linda Kearns, who was a nurse from Sligo who set up a temporary medical station from a store during the week of the Rising. We also heard from a relative of Linda Kearns who was in the audience, that Linda had inherited a large sum of money at the time, which enabled her to buy a car and act as a messenger and courier, transporting men and arms during the War of Independence. I only heard of Linda Kearns last year when I read an article about Liz’s book and I had recently read about Linda’s work during the War of Independence, from the military statement she gave to the Military bureau in 1950. It’s a fascinating read, you can check out Linda’s statement here, (opens as a Pdf link).
The bureau of Military Archives website, militaryarchives.ie is a great resource and worth checking out. I also read the statement from Sligo man, Charles Gildea from Tubbercurry, who details his escape from Sligo Gaol alongside Frank O’Beirne and Tom Deignan on the 29th June 1921. You can read about Charles’s escape from prison here, (opens as a Pdf link).
In the afternoon, we watched a short documentary on Linda Kearns, you can watch a short clip below from the TG4 Ealu documentary or here.
After the documentary, we walked the short distance from the hotel to the prison and got a guided tour inside. I was a bit bemused to hear, when the prison was first opened, local people referred to it as been located in the countryside, as the St Anne’s and Cranmore roads did not exist and prisoners on been convicted in the Sligo Courthouse, would have been transported to the prison via Corcoran’s Mall now Kennedy Parade and over the Riverside road, passed the Sligo distillery (you can read a previous post about it) now the site of the Riverside hotel and the cottages on Armstrong’s row and up the Gaol road.
While on the tour, our lovely guide Chantal Doyle, told us how the prison was very modern and got the nickname the Cranmore hotel as it was heated and had piped water, which was pumped up from the nearby Garavogue river using a large treadmill wheel which each of the male prisoners had to spend time on each day.
We were able to explore several of the cells and walk the narrow corridors with high arched ceilings. There are a team of volunteers involved in Sligo Gaol and there are doing great work locally to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of the prison building, along with Sligo County Council, you can check out their website here. You can also sign up to a mailing list and Facebook page and find out when they will next be planning a tour of the prison.
Funnily enough, they mentioned at the end of tour, to tell all your friends about Sligo Gaol as many people aren’t aware it exists, which I was a bit surprised by, as having grown up nearby I’ve always known it was there and even got to sneak in when I was 11 years old. I’d assumed most Sligo people were aware of the buildings existence, later that day, I mentioned to my cousin from West Sligo where I had been and she wasn’t aware of the prison building at all! So there you go, tell everyone you know.
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