Unique and eerie, the Wicklow Gaol is one of our favorite attractions found throughout Ireland’s Ancient East. Take a tour and you’ll discover more than 300 years of history and the brutal conditions prisoners experienced portrayed by actors and exhibits.
The Wicklow Gaol began taking in prisoners in 1702. During this time, it was home to inmates who were subject to a horrible way of life. Sadly, many children were inside the Gaol. They were either born to existing prisoners and knew nothing of life outside or were jailed for relatively minor crimes. Many people – children and adults – were imprisoned for stealing food to feed their families during the Famine.
Along with that pivotal time in Irish history, other events shaped Ireland, and thus, affected the Wicklow Gaol’s prison intake. These events included the 1798 rebellion, the 1820-1843 expansion, the 1860s reform, the transportation to the colonies, the independence era, the Cheshire regiment and the 20th century closure and renovation.
The smell, vicious beatings, shocking food and disease-ridden air has since disappeared and been replaced with an amazing visitor experience for all who wish to learn the Gaol’s story. During a tour, you can see graffiti and read thoughts inmates left in a notebook rediscovered in 1923. There are also heart-rending tales told such as one of Thomas Pitt – an 8-year-old sentenced to a week in prison and a flogging for stealing two shillings. You’ll also find many exhibits on display such as a life-size treadwheel that prisoners would have to turn for hours on end as punishment. The original Gaol dungeon is now open for tours for the first time in over 100 years. It enables visitors to experience the sights and sounds of harsh life in the dungeon first-hand. And for anyone researching their family roots, Wicklow Gaol has a genealogical library with Irish digital databases for details of Irish ancestry.
If you’re interested in the paranormal, the Wicklow Gaol is known as one of Europe’s most haunted buildings. In 2008 Ghost Hunter’s International named it Ireland’s most haunted building and a special showing of the newest Ghostbusters film was held there in July 2016.
Like so much of the Ancient East, the Wicklow Gaol is a symbol of a different time and way of life that shaped Ireland into what it is today. While its past is dark, its present suggests hope and reflection.