The Sligo County Prison, (not open to the public) was officially closed in June 1956, after serving as a prison here since 1818, although there were a number of earlier prisons and correctional institutes in various locations around Sligo Town.
The first prison and session house was built in Sligo Town in the late 17th century on the site of the present Courthouse, though by 1766 this had been demolished and replaced by similar structures at Correction Street (now known as High Street) and Back Lane (now known as West Gardens).
Some years later a House of Correction was built behind the Police Barrack on the Albert Line (now called the Garda Barracks on Pearce Road).
Construction of the County Gaol we are visiting today started in 1818, with completion in 1823. The County Gaol was built to the shape of a polygon with the Governors house located in the centre, and cost £30,000 or €38,090, the contractor for the project was Mr John Lynn.
The County Gaol, which was built to hold 200 inmates, had its own hospital wing, surgery, dispensary, cookhouse, furnace, clothing store and a school all housed within its walls.
In 1879 gas was introduced into the gaol, enabling the cells to be heated by hot water pipes, earning it the occasional name of The Cranmore Hotel.
The inmates diet consisted of potatoes and Indian meal bread.
Hard labour for male prisoners was enforced by the Treadmill, a crude form of punishment designed by a Mr Cubitt of Ipswich in 1817 and housed in the execution block when it was opened in 1823. The Treadmill was used to pump water for the prisoners sanitation and for other purposes.
Hard labour for the male prisoners also included picking oakum, breaking stones and chopping wood.
Industrial Labour within the prison included shoemaking, tailoring, tinsmith work, carpentry, glazing, painting and gardening. Female prisoners were employed at sewing, washing and knitting.
The last public hanging in Sligo Town took place at Sligo Gaol shortly after 8am on the morning of Monday 19th August 1861, when Mathew Phibbs, aged 26 with an address at Market Street in Ballymote, County Sligo was hanged in front of the County Gaol for the murders of William Callaghan aged 91 and his wife Fanny Callaghan aged 62 and a young servant girl Anne Mooney on January 8th 1861.
In the 20th century the prison was completely self-sufficient. Producing its own vegetables, which was sold on to Sligo townsfolk on Saturday mornings, from stalls manned by the prison inmates themselves. However the prison wardens handled the money on the stalls, though it wasn’t unknown for a prison warden to turn a blind eye to a few woodbines being handed to the prisoners by the townsfolk.
The prison finally closed in June 1956 due to the ever-falling crime rate. Today the prison and its grounds are used for storage purposes by Sligo County Council.
Special thanks to Sligo County Council for permission to enter the remains of Sligo Gaol and to take the photographs shown above