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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

From the Accounts and Papers

 Relating to Crime, Gaol's & Criminals in Ireland

31 January - 17 July 1837.

'Carlow Gaol'

Originally the Thompson's Building was known as "The Old Carlow Gaol".
The Gate pictured, which now leads to the Shopping Mall, was originally the main gate to the Gaol..
Donated by "Carloman"

"The Old Carlow Gaol"

Originally the Thompson's Building was known as "The Old Carlow Gaol". The Gate, which now leads to the  Shopping Mall, was originally the main gate to this place. This new gaol replaced the old County Bridewell, which still stood at the end of Bridewell Lane and where most of the United Irishmen were imprisoned in 1798. The remains of the 1798 gaol are across the road from the impressive gate approximately where the toyshop and the apartment complex are now.

Map of Carlow Gaol

Governor's House

The premises consisted of Governor's House (4 stories), which still exists inside the shopping mall, Matron's House (2 stories), female prison of 30 cells, male prison of 35 cells, (all demolished now) all surrounded by a 20ft. wall. The gaol was built of limestone coped with granite with a fine cut granite entrance (the gate in Question).

The Gaol also had two gatekeepers’ apartments, stables, straw and coach houses and a walled-in garden of about half an acre. The Gaol was later an engineering works and is currently a Shopping Centre. The Governor's house is now incorporated into a restaurant in the centre of the development. The granite entrance is still in use and features stags/animal heads which were salvaged from the 1930’s fire at Duckett’s Grove, Carlow.

The Gate to the gaol was used for public hangings. On August 6th, 1822, Michael and Hugh Finnegan, father and son, and William Nolan were hanged for robbery and burglary in the house of Patrick Farrell, Grangeford, on April 18th, 1822. The execution took place in front of the gaol where Rev. W. Fitzgerald, P.P, attended the unfortunate men. Finnegan the elder had fifty acres of land, 30 cows and a well-appointed set of farming implements so there was no reason why he should resort to violence. The last person to be publicly hanged, was a woman called Lucy Sly who had murdered her husband.

The condemned cells were to the left of the present gate entrance. The Tread Mill and Debtors' Prison were on the Barrack Street side. The prisoners worked the treadmill to pump water from a well for use in the gaol.  During reconstruction work in 1840/1853, part of the Old Carlow Wall was discovered in Potato Market near the gaol.

Before the shopping Mall was built the Gaol housed Thomas Thompson and Sons engineering works. When Thompson's were there all the old cellblocks were still there and on occasion when putting in foundations for machines the bodies of several persons executed there would be discovered.

The Gaol was last extended in 1853. An account of this work was found written on a door taken down on October 18th, 1955 (102 years later) at Hanover Works.

The Gaol was closed in 1897 and then sold to Thomas Thompson. He was a member of the Society of Friends who came from England in 1870.  He founded an engineering firm which specialised in repairing and the manufacturing of machinery, chiefly threshing sets, portable and later steam.

He named the Gaol “Hanover Works”, which operated well into the early 1990’s.

During the first world war the Hanover Works became a munitions factory, making ammunition cases and Bristol Fighter Wings. After the war Thompson's reverted to building work. The Bishop Foley Schools (built with the cut stone from Duckett's Grove Mansion), Carlow Sugar Beet Factory, St. Clare's, Church Graiguecullen, to mention only three of their contributions to Carlow town.

Inspectors-General of Prisons In Ireland 1837

Major Palmer, Inspector of Prisons, visited Carlow Gaol on December 20th 1837. He expressed his pleasure with everything he saw. There was then a total of 66 prisoners in the Gaol and 22485 prisoners were fed in the year at a cost of 2 and 7/8 pence per prisoner per day. During the Great Famine of 1847, it was better to be in Gaol than in the ‘Union’. Breakfast consisted of 1lb. Of brown bread and 1 pint of sweet milk, lunch was 8ozs of oatmeal ’stirabout’ and 1 pint of buttermilk at weekends

The ghost of Lucy Sly, the last woman hung in the Gaol, is said to haunt the building and the staff have experienced many strange and unexplained occurrences over the years, from mysterious lights appearing to voices being heard.

Leinster Paranormal have, over the years , conducted a number of investigations and have collected an amount of strange and unexplainable recordings. Indeed, the national Television Station featured the Gaol in a programme on the paranormal in Ireland, you can watch this on our website

The word Gaol is an Irish word meaning “jail”. Carlow gaol was built in 1800 and operated as a jail until 1897 when it was closed and sold to Thomas Thompson. He then founded an engineering firm, and renamed the Gaol “Hanover Works” which operated into the early 1990’s. When the foundations were being laid for the engineering works the bodies of several people executed there were discovered, as it was common practice at the time to bury the bodies of the executed on jail grounds.

The Gate to the gaol, which is now the enterance to Superquinn Shopping Centre, was used for public hangings and the condemned cells were to the left of the present gate entrance. The Tread Mill and Debtors’ Prison were on the Barrack Street side. The prisoners worked the treadmill to pump water from a well for use in the gaol. During reconstruction work in 1840/1853, part of the Old Carlow Wall was discovered in Potato Market near the gaol.

If you look closely at the window over the gate you will see a horizontal slot that has been filled with mortar below the window. This was where a wooden platform with a trapdoor was pushed out. The trapdoor is now in Carlow Museun.

Public Executions in Carlow.

The Carlow Morning Post, August 22nd 1822.

Michael Finnegan, Hugh Finnegan (father and son) and William Nolan were launched into eternity at about 3.30 p.m. on August 20th. The execution took place in front of the Carlow Gaol where the unfortunate gentlemen were attended by Rev. W. Fitzgerald. They acknowledged the justice of their sentences and were apparently resigned to their fate. The sheriff having postponed the execution until after the arrival of the Dublin Coach. Not less than 20,000 persons assembled to witness the execution – more than half were of the fair sex- and there remained in town several hundreds of both sexes who returned home to their respective dwellings in a state of drunkenness. They and the other members of the gang had been convicted of burglary and robbery from the house of Patrick Farrell, Grangeford on April 18th 1822.

In 1830, Michael Graig, his offence was stealing a tablecloth, was hung, as was Michael Kelly for having in his possession, two stolen pigs

A Carlow Story

This image shows us where the slot for the Trap Door was located and the slot for the Gibbet (below the letter 'R') which were both used by the executers during public hangings.

Info supplied by 'Carloman'

On the night of November 9th 1834 Lucy Sly's abusive husband Walter arrived home drunk and retired to his bed. Saying nothing Lucy placed a hatchet in the lap of her young lover John Dempsey a labourer on the farm. John readily accepted the invitation and slew Walter forthwith.

The lovers were tried in the Deighton Hall, Carlow, found guilty and both were launched off together from the gibbet of Carlow gaol (above), on March 30th. 1835.

At the trial no one spoke in favour of Lucy.

Source: Terry Curran

The old jail in Carlow which was situated at the top of Bridewell Lane. Many of the 1798 rebels were interred here.
The Barrack Yard showing the Court Martial room people were condemned to death during the Troubles
The old Jail (pictured in 1959) where Sir Edward Crosbie was interred along with many other prisoners.
We are told that many of the prisoners could look out through the top windows  and see their fellow rebels being tortured and put to death in the barrack yard in Barrack Street.  Soon after this photo was taken a major refurbishment of the building was undertaken by R.N. Gillespie Ltd.  In the 1990s the building was demolished and is now replaced by modern shops and apartments.

Some of the prisoners that served time in the Carlow Gaol

1820 Carlow Jail List of Prisoners
Detailed listing of names and crimes committed including:
Bridget Gehagan for murder of Catherine Brophy,
Michael Craig for stealing a tablecloth,
Michael Kelly for "having in his possession two pigs". Other charges include "riot", "sheep stealing", "a vagabond", "firing a shot", etc


Terry Curran

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