Galway Gaol

Our illustration today is of a ‘Wanted’ poster offering a reward for any information on a prisoner, John Hynes, who had escaped from Galway Gaol on November 29, 1892. We do not know what Mr Hynes was in jail for, but £100 was a lot of money in 1892, so it must have been a serious crime.

The most interesting part of the poster is the description of the prisoner — brown hair; brown eyes; smooth face; height 5ft 7ins; projecting chin with hollow between mouth and extremity of chin; teeth stained yellow; eyes deep set; bushy eyebrows same colour as hair; long straight nose; scar at base of right forefinger; frowning or scowling appearance.

They were taking photographs of prisoners in the gaol at the time, so one wonders why they did not include an image on the poster. Maybe the description was so accurate, there was no need for one.

Galway Gaol was in fact two jails within one very high wall, a county gaol and a town gaol, the latter closer to Nuns’ Island. They were built at the beginning of the 19th century. There had been other jails in Galway before that in a number of places like Blake’s Castle, The Tholsel, and Abbeygate Street, but they were all inadequate, so this construction was a major advance. The County Gaol was crescent shaped and was two storeys high. It held 180 prisoners in eight wards, one of which was used as a prison hospital. No timber was used in the construction, everything consisted of stone and iron. The city prison was three storeys high with part of the basement providing living quarters for the keeper and his family. The ground floor and first floor was taken up with cells, while the top floor housed the solitary confinement cell block.

There was no exercise if it was raining. There were a number of workshops for prisoners where they learned things like stone carving or boot making. The execution chamber was opposite the main entrance, just above the cook house. Between it and the cells were two rooms for unmarried warders.

In January 1881, Thomas Higgins, Patrick Higgins, and Michael Flynn were hanged in this jail for the murder of Lord Ardilaun’s bailiff and his grandson. On December 15 1882, Pat Joyce, Pat Casey, and Myles Joyce were hanged for the notorious Maamtrasna murders. Myles Joyce was innocent. In January 1885, John Downey was hanged for the murder of John Moylan.

Four days later, Thomas Parry was executed for the murder of his exfiancee in the Royal Hotel. The last man hanged in Galway Gaol was Thomas Keely who killed his landlady in Athenry. He was executed in April 1902.

The two prisons were amalgamated around 1870. In 1925, the Urban District Council was considering the closure of the prison. This led to a number of objections because some people thought it was good for business, but it eventually closed in May 1939. The property was handed over to the county council, which in turn conveyed it to The Galway Diocesan Trustees on March 15, 1941.

For more information on Galway Jail, we can recommend Geraldine Curtin’s book The Women of Galway Jail.

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