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The Treatment of Irish Children in Prisons in Ireland


L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Many Irish children in Dublin Ireland were put in prisons and workhouses and treated very badly.

Many Irish children in Dublin Ireland were put in prisons and workhouses and treated very badly.

The Treatment of Women and Children in Irish Prisons

Punishment and hard labour was common for prisoners in all Irish prisons. Women and children in Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 Ireland suffered as did the young boys at the Smithfield Young Offenders Prison. I have written about some of their stories below.

Harsh Punishment of Women and Children

The Tread Mill was a machine that was used to grind corn in the flour mills, but it was a form of hard labour used in some of the prisons. There were long handles around the centre piece. The prisoners had to hold on to these and walk around in circles pushing it along.

In the workhouses the children worked on the Tread Mill to grind the corn, but if one child fell it took the other children a few minutes to stop, usually not before the fallen child had been trampled on. The large building in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 Ireland was opened in 1816 as the Richmond Penitentiary for both male and female prisoners.

Children were sentenced to be whipped in Irish prisons

Children were sentenced to be whipped in Irish prisons


In the prisons the Tread Mill was used only as a form of punishment, no corn was ground. The prisoners had to stay on this for five hours in the summer and four hours in the winter. One prison officer stated, “I have seen today the strongest of fellows led away crying from the Tread Mill."

The Shot Drill

The prisoners had to lift this heavy ball to the height of their chest, walk two paces and then replace it on the ground. Four hours a day was spent on this. They had to ask permission to blow their nose and could not sing, whistle or make any unnecessary noise. They were constantly whipped for breaking the rules. Courts would also Order Whipping as part of the Prisoner's Sentence

The Tread Mill was used as punishment of prisoners, including children in Irish prisons.

The Tread Mill was used as punishment of prisoners, including children in Irish prisons.

Imprisonment of Children

The majority of the prisoners would be thrown into overcrowded cells to sleep on the damp floor with rats running all over them. They had lice infested straw to cover them. Children as young as seven were also imprisoned in these conditions.

Young Offenders Prison

In 1801 at Smithfield in Dublin 7, a Young Offenders Prison was opened for boys. It was the first in Ireland. But only some of the many children in the adult prisons could be accommodated there. It also took in orphan boys and then some years later girls who were brought in front of the magistrates for begging on the streets.

In 1819 a report stated that there were a hundred and twenty two boys there. Imprisonment of these children was therefore common place with most of them committing no crime and receiving no sentence. Some had been there for five years.

Young Children in Prisons

When the Lord Lieutenant saw the report he ordered that every effort be made to find any relatives willing to take the children. If this could not be done then the children were to be transferred to the House of Industry or apprenticed out to tradesmen. He ordered that young children were not to be imprisoned there anymore. It was only to be used for teenage offenders and women serving short term sentences.

Another report only ten years later showed there had been little improvement. It stated that there were nineteen young children in the prison. Four of the youngest children ranged in age from two years old to five and were all girls. Children would continue to be imprisoned with adults for at least another thirty years.

Grangegorman Prison in Stoneybatter, Dublin  in Ireland

Grangegorman Prison in Stoneybatter, Dublin in Ireland

Grangegorman Female Prison

Construction began on the Richmond Penitentiary in 1812 and was completed in 1816. The front of the building housed the administration block of the prison. The clock and weathercock above the entrance are still in good condition.

It was designed by Francis Johnston, and named after the fourth Duke of Richmond. The prison closed in 1826. There was a scandal involving discrimination against Catholics and it also came out that the authorities were trying to convert the prisoners to Protestantism.

By 1832 the cholera epidemic was at its height in Dublin and it was used as a temporary hospital. The Richmond Penitentiary was reopened in April 1837 and was to receive only female prisoners. It was at that time the only prison in Ireland used exclusively for this purpose. It had 256 cells and these were 12ft by 4" square, and 11ft high. It became known as the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary.

Some young children who were imprisoned at the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in 1841 were:

Name Age Area Crime Sentence Date

  • Margaret Ryan 10 Francis St. Pawning a silver spoon 14 days 11th Aug.1841
  • Mary Ryan 10 Heplin St. Disturbing the peace 7 days 12th Aug. 1841
  • Cath St John 10 Liffey St. Disturbing the peace 7 days 6th Oct.1841
  • Cath Connor 11 Britain St. Indecent exposure 30 days 14th Aug 1841
  • Mary Johnston 15 Coombe Stealing potatoes 3 months 10th Sept.1841

Disturbing the peace would have been drunkenness and indecent exposure was prostitution.

Children were sent to Grangegorman Prison in Dublin Ireland

Children were sent to Grangegorman Prison in Dublin Ireland

Mary Monaghan

On August 11th 1841 Mary Monaghan from Arbour Hill, Stoneybatter Dublin 7, was convicted of 'disturbing the peace.' She was sentenced to fourteen days at the Grangegorman Penitentiary. On August 29th 1841 she received a further four days for 'disturbing the peace' again. She was ten years old. Sixty years later in the 1901 Census, Mary Monaghan was living at 3 Manor Street Stoneybatter Dublin 7.

She was seventy years old and her occupation was stated as a charwoman. In the 1911 Census it is stated that she was an old age pensioner and still at this address in Manor Street.

Attempted Suicide Got You a Prison Sentence

Local women who were imprisoned at the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary were:

  • Mary Coughlin 28 Manor St. Breach of the peace 7 days 10th Sept 1841
  • Catherine Lear 25 Church St. Stealing bucket & rope 3 months 13th Aug 1841

Disturbing the peace and theft are the most common crimes recorded. But there were a few unusual ones.

  • Mary Walsh from Angelsea Street was seventeen years old and unemployed when she attempted to drown herself. She was sentenced to fourteen days in the penitentiary for this crime on October 2nd 1841.
  • Another unhappy woman, Hannah Walsh, from Britain St. attempted to do the same. She was twenty seven and unemployed. She received a sentence of fourteen days on September 14th 1841.
  • Catherine Booth was twenty five and worked in Ship Street as a servant. She also tried to drown herself and received a sentence of thirty days in the prison on 22nd August 1841.

Whatever it was that drove these women to try to commit suicide, their state of mind was not helped by their imprisonment.

  • On August 19th 1841, Jane McAllister aged twenty, from Athy, was convicted of attempting to conceal the birth of her baby. She was a servant at the time. She received a sentence of three months at the Penitentiary.
  • Margaret Walsh, aged twenty one from Blessington, was convicted on 14th August 1841, of deserting her child. She worked as a servant, and received the sentence of three months at the prison.

Kilmainham Jail Dublin

Other children as young as eight years old were imprisoned in the nearby Kilmainham Jail.

  • Alicia Kelly was only eight years old when she was sentenced to five months hard labour in March 1839 for stealing a cloak.
  • Jane Beerds who was nine years old was accused of stealing fowl in January 1840. She spent three months in the jail before being released in April after been found not guilty.
  • Michael and Patrick Reilly were aged twelve and thirteen years old in April 1833. They were both found guilty of stealing three ducks and a hen, They each received a sentence of three weeks in prison and a total of sixty lashes. They were whipped each week receiving twenty lashes at a time.
  • Mick Kearney, twelve and his younger brother Stephen, nine were convicted of stealing money in December 1838. They both received a sentence of four weeks imprisonment and were whipped once a week.
  • For stealing apples from a garden John Keegen aged eleven, got two months hard labour on 11th August 1833.

The Workhouses

Many of the children from the workhouses were sent to jail for very trivial reasons. A fifteen year old boy was caught jumping on a school desk, he received a sentence of six weeks in prison on the Tread Mill.

If a child ran away they were arrested for the theft of the workhouse clothes they were wearing at the time. A boy of fourteen was sentenced to one month in prison on the Tread Mill for this offence.

In Nenagh 1849 it was reported that fourteen children were escorted through the streets by the police. Thirteen of these were little boys who were to be whipped at the local jail because they were caught throwing stones at the workhouse master.

The sentences handed down to these women and children were harsh, but worse was to come. The prison system in Ireland could not cope, there was overcrowding and the cost of keeping the prisoners in jail was too high.

Irish Famine and Convicts

Imprisonment of women and children in Ireland had to be stopped. During the famine years of 1845 to 1848 the influx of country people to the cities was enormous. They could not get work, so they had to beg on the streets.

The government brought out a Vagrancy Law which made begging a crime. Others were stealing food and livestock to survive. If they got caught they knew at least they would be fed in prison. Once the famine started and potatoes were in short supply, the prisoners were given poor substitutes

Food Rations

In order to deter the people from committing crimes so that they could get imprisoned and fed, the food rations were drastically reduced. This had no effect on the numbers; all it did was create more misery for the inmates and save the government on the food bill. Something had to be done, so transportation to Australia was increased.


  • Dublin Slums. 1800 - 1925. A Study in Urban Geography. Jacinta Prunty.
  • Directory 1848. An Oifig Taifead Poibli BB1
  • Wicklow's Historical Gaol 1702 - 1924.
  • The Workhouses of Ireland. The fate of Ireland's poor. John O'Connor. 1995
  • The Great Hunger. Cecil Woodham Smith. 1981
  • Kilmainham Gaol Document Pack. Blackrock Teachers Centre. 1992
  • The Lost Children. A study of charity children in Ireland 1700 - 1900. Joseph Robins.
  • 1901 Census. Manor Street Dublin 7. National Archives.
  • 1911 Census. Manor Street Dublin 7. National Archives.
  • Ireland Since The Famine. F S L Lyons. 1973
  • An Age of Change. The 19th Century. Ray Rivlin. School and College Publishing Ltd. 1982

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


L M Reid (author) from Ireland on October 18, 2020:

Yes children were really treated terribly in those days. If you were poor you did not stand a chance. Thank you for all the comments on this article.

Brian Paul John Corcoran on September 10, 2020:

Its tragic, very young children and woman were placed in prison for very minor crimes to survive. Heart breaking.

Feryn on September 10, 2020:

Is this humanity? These crimes were for survival, no jobs no parents and men had all rights toward women and their offspring. Just horrific child or adult. I hope for karma.

Eileenfrafferty@outlook.com on August 30, 2020:

Heartbreaking. Man’s inhumanity to man.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 14, 2020:

Hello Kate, thanks for stopping by. I am glad you found the article interesting, yes a lot of our Irish history is very sad.

Kate on March 23, 2020:

A sad but interesting article. I’m American and of Irish descent. My ancestors came from County Mayo and Roscommon. I’ve heard about the abuses the Irish endured under English rule and it’s still disheartening to read about man’s inhumanity to man. My last name is Manton and my cousin was American congressman Thomas Manton. My mom’s maiden name was

Carey. Some of the last names that my Irish ancestors bore were Connolly, Moran and Parham.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on February 04, 2020:

Hello M Coffey, Apart from the photo of the Tread Mill all the other photos were taken by myself. Maybe they look similar to your ones but they are definetly all my own work. I would love to read your book when it is published. Let me know when it is on sale. Thanks Lorraine

M Coffey on February 04, 2020:

A couple of the photos you have on Grangegorman Prison were taken by myself for inclusion in my book "Murder in the Monto". My great grandmother and her sister were both imprisoned here when they were 13/14 years of age...

Joan on August 19, 2016:

Wendy Ross - I have only just discovered this site, and was delighted to read your message from 3 years ago. Descended through Horace Webster, grandson of Etty.

Belatedly researching great grandmother, and yours, Etty (Esther) Dunne. I do have a contact in Dublin, and will check with him. Will ask him for assistance or if he knows anyone else interested in helping us.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on January 25, 2015:

Hello Patrick You can Google the Irish National Archives for other stuff on Convicts and Prisoners in Ireland

There is lots of information on Irish Convicts who were sent to Australia in this article


patrick on December 14, 2014:

is there any more info on prisons in ireland

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on September 23, 2012:

Wendy I see from your comment on the other article I wrote about Irish convicts sent to Australia that someone in Dublin did locate the relevant information for you on his Genealogy membership site. That is great.

Good luck with your further research

Wendy A. Ross on August 25, 2012:

This message is intended for anyone living in hope of obtaining copies from the "Grangegorman Female Penitentiary" Register. My correspondence with the National Archives of Ireland was ignored. A recent search of their website clearly indicates that they will not undertake research, photocopying or scanning for members of the public. They have posted a list of professional researchers whom are available to conduct research for anyone living outside Ireland or cannot visit the Archives in person. Living in Australia, a personal visit is not possible for me. I have been quoted in excess of 50 Euros for one page. The Archives do confirm on the website that they hold the abovementioned Register. Wondering if anyone in Dublin, who lives near the establishment, does free lookups?? Thanks Viking 305.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on July 18, 2012:

Martin it was indeed terrible times for the ordinary poor citizens of Ireland. But it was the same in the UK and other countries. Women and children were routinely sentenced to prison for minor crimes and treated terribly.

The thing that really upsets me though is the children in the orphanages and workhouses who committed no crimes but were whipped and abused every day too and treated as hardened criminals.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on July 18, 2012:

Hello Bella. Thank you for sharing your family history of your Great Grandmother and aunt who were transported from Grangegorman Prison to Australia. Yes 1849 was the height of the Irish Famine so they would have stole the sheep to eat like so many Irish people at the time. Being sent to Australia even as convicts would have saved their lives.

The photos above are mostly my own and you can use any of those you wish. I have put my name L.M.Reid under those ones. The photo of the Thread Mill is from a copyright free website but I can not find it now, always the way.

I have another article that deals specifically about Irish women and children who were transported to Australia in 1848. The same would apply here for the photos, any with my name under them as the source you are welcome to use.

The link is below


I presume you know the Irish National Museum now has all the Irish convict information on file so you can access it on the internet. You will be able to type in your great grandmother's name with the ship name and date and get lots of info on her

Good luck with writing your family history

Martin G. on July 17, 2012:


Bella on July 13, 2012:

Hi there, Viking 305. Thanks for the terrific photos and info about Grangegorman. My gg grandmother also passed through those heavy doors en route to Tasmania. It was April 1849. She and her sister had been convicted of sheep stealing in Clifden, Galway. They must have been starving because her baby was so malnourished he was blind. I am in the process of writing up their story for family history and non-commercial distribution. I'm wondering whether these photos of the prison are in the public domain. If not, what would be involved in getting permission to use them in my publication. I'd really appreciate your advice.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 02, 2012:

Prisons were really bad places to find yourself in those dark days. Women and children were treated just as badly as the men. It is a terrible part of Irish history but at that time in Britain and all over the world human suffering and even life was not valued very highly at all.

susan hager on February 09, 2012:

Grave atrocities, horrific torturous lives, deprevation,

starvation and disease, but nothing whatsoever could

dampen the resilience of the great Irish spirit which

Irish history has so strengthend in modern times

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on January 25, 2012:

Another tragic bit of history that few know about.

Writergirl 60 on October 05, 2011:


lee monahan on August 25, 2011:

hi i did the paranormal tour of wicklow jail i am not a medium but a little girl called annie i she was 15 if anyone might know her secound name it would be great help thanks

Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on August 05, 2011:

This was very interesting and, of course, sad. I must do some more research on this. Thank you for bringing it to light for all of us.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 23, 2011:

Thank you everyone for reading my article and for your comments.

Yes aussiemeg I would be very interested to contact you and hear about your Great great grandmother Mary Byrne. Can you email me privately by clicking on the contact viking305 button on the top right hand corner on this article.

I would like to write an aricle about her and her daughter and what happened to them when they arrived in Australia as convicts.

aussiemeg on April 21, 2011:

Thank you for your Hub. I am a direct descendant of one of these women sent to Hobart on the "John Calvin". You have added to my family history as I did not know about Grangegorman Prison. Her name is Mary Byrne & she arrived in Australia with her daughter Catherine aged 4. Let me know if you would like to know anything about their tragic lives in Australia. Mary was convicted in Wicklow of stealing 5 stone of potatoes.

Wendy Powell on July 29, 2010:

Speechlessly in awe of the inhumanity of some people and the magnitude of their ability to stomach the abuse they inflict - my GOD!! One person committing an act of atrocity is hard enough to deal with, but when you have a GROUP in communion with such acts, it is absolutely staggering!!

Great Hub, Viking305. Sick Truths need to be uncovered so offenders and the likes of such dare not attempt a repeat...

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on July 02, 2010:

horrific-horrible!! I spent a summer in Ireland and studied the Famine, but was not aware these conditions existed in the 1800's. Very serious, very disturbing Hub. Good Work. I would love your comments on my Hub, The Killing of a King (King Charles of US).

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 04, 2010:

Thank you missmaudie for reading the hub and your comment I appreciate it.

missmaudie from Brittany, France on May 04, 2010:

Well done on a very sobering subject viking305. It really beggars belief what one human being can do to another doesn't it. Unfortunately, as you say it hasn't stopped to this day. Congrats on the nominations

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 03, 2010:

Thanks rose 56 for reading the hub and your comment, it is appreciated. Thank you Money Glitch for also reading the hub and your comment.

Yes I agree people can be very cruel. I wish this kind of behaviour was just part of history but unfortunatley as we all know children in many parts of the world are still living in despereate situations today.

Thanks again to both of you for taking the time to read it

Money Glitch from Texas on May 03, 2010:

It amazing how inhumane some people can be to others at times; unfortunately world history is full of such horrific stories. Congrats on being selected to this week's HubNuggets Wannabe nominees. Good luck to ya!

rose56 on May 02, 2010:

amazing hub

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 02, 2010:

Thanks NamvetRich for reading the hub and for your kind comments. Yes it does make you stop and think sometimes when you read how the people were treated, and the majority of them got in to trouble because of poverty.

NamVetRich from Springfield Oregon on May 02, 2010:

Sometimes you just wonder, how can people be so cruel, your Hub pulls at the heart strings. I can see why you were nominated for the Hubnuggets great writing, Bravo!!!!!

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 01, 2010:

Thank you ripplemaker for reading the article and for highlighting the fact it has been nominated.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on April 30, 2010:

My heart is in pain and cringing with the horrors of it all. Now I'm quiet...

This hub has been nominated for the Hubnuggets. Please, make your way to the Hubnuggets and be sure to vote. https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/HubNuggets-P...

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 19, 2010:

Thanks for reading the article Lisa HW. Yes it is strange alright lol. But I suppose she was someone's great grandmother, who doesn't realise what their ancestor went through

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on April 19, 2010:

This is sobering, of course. I couldn't help but mention this: I know "Walsh" is a really common name; but my father had Irish people in his ancestry; and we had "Walsh's" in our ancestry. Even knowing it's a common Irish name, it does kind of make me wonder (especially since my grandmother, who died before I was born, was named, "Margaret Walsh". It wouldn't have been her, but it makes me wonder about, maybe, her grandmother... (Just pondering after seeing the name...)

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 07, 2010:

Thanks for the comments Casangel and Patrick Collins, much appreciated.

It's amazing the way something is the norm in one age and shocking in another. Their treatment was not just in Ireland. Most countries had very little sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged in those days.

Thanks again for taking the time to read it

Patrick Collins on April 07, 2010:

shocking stuff. That was a great hub, thanks

Casangel on April 07, 2010:

So interesting ,those poor children, What they had to do just to survive. The pregnant women,my God, what they must have gone through,unbelievable. Thank you for all your work in this article

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