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Saturday 8th September
Clayton Hotel, Sligo
Crime & Punishment in 19th & 20th Century Ireland
A diverse selection of topics, ranging from the Spike Island Excavations to Dark Tourism, centering on Ireland's historic prisons will be discussed by leading experts in the field of crime and punishment in 19th and 20th century Ireland.
Speakers include Dr Richard McMahon; Dr Ciara Breathnach; Tim Carey; Dr Geraldine Curtin; Dr Barra O’ Donnabhain; Dr Laura McAtackney  & Dr Gillian O’Brien.
Kindly funded by The Heritage Council

Bicentenary Conference: 

2018 is a very significant year for Sligo Gaol.

Between its impressive list of famous inmates including Michael Collins, Michael Davitt and Jack Doyle, are the countless poignant human stories of the ordinary prisoners, many of whom were transported to the penal colonies in Australia and subsequently shared in world changing events through settlement in these far flung lands. The diaspora of Sligo Gaol is far reaching and generations can trace their history to Sligo Gaol.

A conference of this high calibre of qualified and well known academics will attract attendees to the conference, not just those in the sphere of academia but the subject matter will have broad appeal locally, nationally and internationally. The importance of the subject matter and the long overdue need to hold a debate about historic jails, their impact on the development of the history of Ireland and the future potential of prisons like Sligo Gaol. Dr Gillian O’Brien will detail in her talk on “Dark Tourism” how similar heritage buildings are witnessing a huge surge in popularity as tourist attractions internationally.

One of the key elements of the Conference will be a panel discussion exploring the options for the future of Sligo Gaol.  Contributors will include Sligo County Council CEO Ciarán Hayes,  Sligo Heritage Officer Siobhan Ryan, Wild Atlantic Way Team Manager Eva Costello, Dark tourism specialist Dr. Gillian O'Brien and representatives from other historic gaols across Ireland.

This discussion will feed into the upcoming Feasibility Study which will be looking into the future of Sligo Gaol. 

Keynote Speaker - Dr Gillian O’Brien

Doing time: Dark tourism in Ireland
Gillian O'Brien is Reader in Modern Irish History

She is the author of "Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago" (University of Chicago Press, 2015) ( and has also published work on the Anglo-Irish relations, newspaper and journalism history, the history of Dublin and the history of Primary Education in Ireland. Her BA and MA are from University College Dublin and her PhD from the University of Liverpool.

Her current research project is a study of the Irish in America from the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century. She is also working on an architectural and social history of convents in eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland. In addition she is interested in the history of women journalists in America and representations of the Irish in the illustrations of Thomas Nast.
Gillian is also involved in a number of public history projects and works as the historical advisor for museum and heritage schemes. She has recently completed projects including the development of Spike Island in Co. Cork, Ireland and work on Kilmainham Gaol and Courthouse in Co. Dublin and Nano Nagle Place in Cork city. As part of her work on museums and heritage centres she has published 'Inception, Development, Operation: A Report on Best Practice for Site-Specific Museums and Heritage Centres' (June 2018)

She is currently working on a project about 'Dark Tourism' in Ireland.

Dr Richard McMahon

A brief history of crime in Ireland

Dr. Richard Mc Mahon is Assistant Professor in Modern History at Trinity College Dublin. His research centres on the history of violence, law and migration in nineteenth-century Britain, Ireland and North America. He is currently working on a transnational history of Irish migration to Glasgow, New York, San Francisco and Toronto in the nineteenth century funded by a research grant from The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.  


He is also interested in the comparative history of Ireland and Finland.  He completed his PhD in the School of Law at University College Dublin in 2007 and has held research fellowships at NUI, Maynooth, the University of Toronto, the University of Edinburgh, New York University and Stanford University. His book, Homicide in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland was published in paperback by Liverpool University Press in 2017.

Dr Ciara Breathnach

The Convict body, 1877-1928

Dr Ciara Breathnach is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Limerick, and has published widely on Irish socio-economic, cultural and health histories. Breathnach was recently awarded an Irish Research Council Laureate Award 2018-2022 for a project entitled Death and Burial Data: Ireland 1864-1922.  She co-curated an exhibition Hunger Strike, 1877-1981 held at Kilmainham Gaol September 2017 to March 2018.

Tim Carey

Mountjoy: the story of a prison

Historian and former manager of Kilmainham Gaol he is the author of a large number of publication on modern Irish history and imprisonment including: ‘Mountjoy: the story of a prison’ and ‘Hanged for Murder: Irish State Executions'.

Dr Geraldine Curtin

Child prisoners in Sligo Gaol, 1850-1900
Geraldine Curtin works in the James Hardiman library at NUIG.
In 2001 she published ‘The women of Galway jail’ (Arlen House). In 2012 she completed a PhD on the subject of juvenile crime in Connacht in the nineteenth century.
She is currently finishing a book on criminal children in Ireland from 1850 to 1908.

Dr Barra O’ Donnabhain

Excavations at Spike Island Prison
Dr Barra O'Donnabhain, who holds a PhD degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, is a bioarchaeologist who has been conducting archaeological research in Ireland and other parts of the world for over 25 years.  His publications cover a wide temporal span as well as a broad range of themes but are characterized by an integrative approach in their reconstructions of past lives.  
This is exemplified by recent papers dealing with the political use of the ritualized violence of executions (2011) and the use of bone chemistry to characterise diet and identity in Viking Age Dublin (2012).  He has also challenged in print the traditional narrative of 'Celtic Ireland'.  O'Donnabhain has directed and collaborated in archaeological projects in a number of world areas.  
His recent focus has been on the bioarchaeology of institutional confinement.  From 2009 to 2011, he directed excavations at a putative leper hospital in south west Ireland and in 2012 he began excavations at the19th century prison at Spike Island, near Cork.  Also in 2012, he directed the mortuary component of excavations at an Inca outpost in southern Peru in collaboration with researchers from UCLA and USC.  He is on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles-based Institute for Field Research.  
He is co-author of the 2016 volume Too Beautiful for Thieves and Pickpockets: a history of the Victorian Convict Prison on Spike Island.

Dr Laura McAtackney

The Prison Graffiti of Kilmainham Gaol
Laura McAtackney is an Associate Professor in Sustainable Heritage Management in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Aarhus University.
She was appointed to her current position in August 2015. Her most recent research has involved a multi-material approach to understanding female imprisonment at Kilmainham Gaol during the Irish Civil War (with a concentration on extant institutional graffiti). She was funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC) to complete the graffiti-recording project at the West Wing of Kilmainham Gaol, which subsequently expanded to include the entire site and adjoining courthouse (completed as a freelance consultant to the custodians of the site, OPW, alongside UCD and IRC seed-funding)
The major output of the graffiti recording has been a publicly accessible website ( She has previously been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Social Justice, University College Dublin (Oct 2012 – Aug 2014) and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, University College Dublin (January 2010-2012). The latter postdoc focused on politics, memory and identity in Irish and diaspora contexts.
She continues to publish on materialisations of the Northern Irish Troubles that endure into the peace process and has a monograph – An Archaeology of the Troubles: the dark heritage of Long Kesh / Maze prison - with Oxford University Press (2014).
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