From castle and jail to county buildings

As part of the activities organised around the Discover Mullingar Day, Westmeath County Council is to host a lecture on the history of the site of the new County Buildings, which stand in one of the most significant areas of Mullingar. The lecture will be presented by local historian Ruth Illingworth on Thursday September 24 .

Announcing the event, cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr Fintan Cooney said; “I am very satisfied that the council has this opportunity to bring this living history of the county town to the attention of the people. I look forward to a very informative evening where Ruth Illingworth, local historian and cathaoirleach of Mullingar Town Council, will present the fascinating story of the birth of our town to modern times”.

It was on the site of the new County Buildings that Mullingar town was first founded more than eight centuries ago. Around 1186, Williams Petit, the Norman Lord of Mullingar, built a castle on high ground overlooking the River Brosna. This castle remained in existence for over five centuries. In 1789, the castle was replaced by the county jail for Westmeath. The jail was modernised and extended during 1826-1828. Executions took place outside the jail wall until 1868 and on one occasion 10 men were hanged in one week. The last hanging at Mullingar jail was in 1885.

The novelist William Carleton was imprisoned for debt while he was living in Mullingar in the 1820s. Timothy Harrington MP, one of the co-founders of the Land League, and Mary O’Connor, one of the leaders of the Ladies Land League, were among the political prisoners held there. A tunnel connected the jail with the courthouse across the street.

Mullingar jail closed in 1900 and most of the complex was demolished in 1910. The governor’s house and some other buildings were retained and Mullingar’s first vocational school was established there in the early 1900s. The school remained on the site until 1953.

The County Buildings and County Hall (now Mullingar Arts Centre ) were built during 1910-12 and opened in 1913. The County Hall was opened by Douglas Hyde. Mullingar’s singing legend, Joe Dolan, was among the numerous entertainers who have appeared on the County Hall stage over the last century. Another distinguished visitor was playwright, actor, and Nobel Laureate, Harold Pinter.

The newly opened County Buildings mark the continuation of an 800-year-old administrative tradition in this most historic area where the town of Mullingar first began.

The lecture will take place on Thursday September 24 at 8pm in the County Buildings, Mount Street, Mullingar. Admission is free.

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