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Below are a selection of “Inspectors General Reports on general state of prisons of Ireland” taken from the Enhanced British Parliamentary Papers on Ireland.  More are available on this website - 

These contemporary accounts offer a fascinating insight into life and conditions inside Sligo Gaol in the first half of the 19th century.







County Sligo Gaol


THE county gaol-at Sligo is a new one, on the semi-circular plan, and has been occupied some years. 

The regulations and system pursued by no means correspond with the appearance of the building, as there is very little employment for the prisoners, the food is not even cooked together in a general kitchen, and there does not appear any zeal or anxiety to establish a good system of gaol discipline or moral government. 

The local inspector, the Rev. Mr. Armstrong, is, I believe, really desirous to create a better feeling than has hitherto guided the internal management of this prison; but there exists a general apathy, which nothing will remove but the active interference of the county gentlemen by constant visiting, and making regulations which they will not permit to be canvassed or argued against.

I have reported minutely to the grand jury, and called their attention to the following particulars: 


- To create more employment, by increasing the plan of breaking stones. 
- To establish a general kitchen for cooking the food. 
- To build a hospital, as there is none at present of any kind. 
- To repair the water pipes. 
- To establish a better mode of issuing and weighing provisions, coals, 
- To closing up by a wall the iron railing at the end of each yard. 

There is a matron and schoolmaster, and these departments are attended to; the former is encouraged and supported in her duty by some benevolent ladies of the town of Sligo. 

Since last inspection the dietary has been reduced to the legal allowance, and no food is now admitted from the friends of pauper prisoners. 
The accounts are kept according to law; and the party spirit which was obvious within the walls of the gaol has, I trust, ceased; all which leads me to hope that a better system will soon be adopted. 

The accommodation the prison affords consists of 52 sleeping cells, 13 debtors rooms, 8 day-rooms, 8 work-rooms, and 10 yards. 









County Sligo Gaol


I have again minutely inspected this gaol; and although the general appearance of cleanliness and order is gratifying, and considerably improved since my first visit, yet I cannot discover in it that system which should belong to a public establishment, especially when the county have expended a large sum on a new gaol. 

The necessary improvements which I suggested to the grand jury and the board of superintendence last year have not been complied with as yet, consisting of the following particulars: 

-    Increasing the employment of breaking stones; 
-    Establishing a general cooking kitchen ; 
-    To erect an hospital, as there is no place for the sick.
-    To repair the water pipes, which are all out of order; 
-    To remove the iron railing of yards, which destroys Classification ; 
-    To erect a straw store; and 
-    To enforce minute Classification. 

An increased zeal and attention is obvious on the part of the officers, but until these deficiencies are supplied by the grand jury, and the entire system of discipline enforced by the board, I cannot expect more improvement than has already taken place. 

The schoolmaster and matron's departments are well attended to; the gaol has 52 cells, a chapel, 13 debtors rooms, and a small clay and work room to each class. 





County Sligo Gaol

THE gaol at Sligo is a new one, on the semi-circular plan, consisting of eight criminal classes, besides accommodation in two classes for debtors, with a governor's house, and classified chapel in front. 

The gaol does not contain accommodation for anything like the number confined, allowing to each a separate cell. 
This defect, however, appears particularly at the present time, as the number of committals has been much greater during the present than during the preceding year. The want of an infirmary, observed in Major Palmer's Report in the last year, is in progress of being removed, as the building of a new and sufficient hospital is advanced.

The want of a proper place of confinement for the lunatics is peculiarly inconvenient in this county, in which the gaol is decidedly too small; and I have recommended to the board of superintendence a temporary arrangement for the accommodation of that description of prisoner, whose intermixture with the other classes is destructive to the discipline of a gaol. 

A regular system of dresses for the female prisoners is most desirable, and produces the best effects in the management and improvement of that class ; and it is peculiarly important in this gaol to afford every assistance and support to the benevolent exertions of the committee of ladies, who pay unremitted attention to the work and Instruction of the women. 

A wash-house for the lower class has been recommended. 

The present system of cooking produces much dirt and confusion in the day rooms, and I have offered some suggestions to the board of superintendence, relative to a steam kitchen, the establishment of which would enable the county to issue, exclusively, the potato or meal diet, and produce a very material saving; indeed the saving uponfuel renders the kitchen proposed a measure of decided economy, without reference to the dietary. 

The general state of this gaol is very creditable to the local inspector and officers. 

Every attention is paid to the comfort of the prisoners, and to the observance of strict discipline and of the system prescribed by law, and my first inspection of it has afforded me much satisfaction.






County Sligo Gaol


IT is gratifying to me to be able to report this prison greatly improved in every respect. 

The want of constant employment hitherto prevented Sligo gaol from keeping pace with others in discipline and good order. I found every prisoner at work, a good tread-mill established, and each criminal had a sleeping cell; these circumstances alone are calculated to make confinement a punishment, as the law purposes, and give some hope of working reformation in characters not altogether depraved.

The school is well managed and creditable to the master; a good steam apparatus is almost finished for cooking the food.  Bye-laws are established, and the female classes are all employed, and instructed in reading under a qualified matron. 

The Board have ordered all recommitted prisoners to be kept in solitary confinement, which, from the complaints of those subject to it, appears to be a severe though salutary punishment; some doubts seem to exist on its legality, and perhaps it would be desirable to obtain the opinion and sanction of the judge at the assizes on it. 

I beg to submit for the consideration of the grand jury the propriety of placing a balcony round the governor's house, for the purpose of inspection. 

Some clothing is much wanting, and, if possible, the stone-breaking should be made a source of profit to the county, as well as a trifling payment to the prisoners, as an encouragement to future industry. 

'The hours of males are not as regular as they should be, occasioned by the contractor not bringing the milk in time. One additional turnkey, and one watchman, is required for the discipline and safety of the gaol. 

I found the prison remarkably clean, the officers zealous and attentive to their duty, and the additional buildings erected by the liberality of the grand jury has provided such accommodation and classification as lo enable the local inspector and governor to establish a system and discipline creditable to the county. 

The matron's salary is only 10s per annum, the lowest in the kingdom; I would beg to submit a small increase.









After a minute inspection of this county gaol in every department, I have only to repeat, that I found it in its usual creditable state; and it is very gratifying to find, that my colleague, Dr, White, in last year's Report, bears testimony to the sound system established.

Before I proceed to detail, for the information of the Grand Jury and Board of Superintendence, my report upon the several departments, I would suggest for consideration the advantages that would arise from making an arrangement to commence the separate system of employment, under the late Act, instead of work in congregated classes; and I have no doubt the Board will give a trial of it, as it can be executed at a very trifling expense. 

It is manifest that the small cells cannot, without great expense, be altered, so as legally to keep criminals in them day and night at separate work; I would therefore recommend the present sheds in the four yards to be enlarged, so as to give ample room in each stall for a trade to he taught to each of the front of the stall to be enclosed with a door and window, and heated from there by a stove and a pipe to convoy the hot air. 

This can be executed for about £50 for each yard and perhaps less, and will then separate at least 40 prisoners the entire day, at useful industry. 

The intelligent Local Inspector and Governor will have this executed on receiving the Board's order ; and as it has been tried with success in county Limerick and Tralee gaols, and is executing in many others, I would recommend the Local Inspector or Governor going to Limerick, to obtain the plan and estimate, and to witness the system. 

On a future occasion, when the minor debtors and lunatics are removed from the gaol, their accommodation may be added to the separate system, and thus all the criminals gradually brought under the same penal discipline. 

There were 85 prisoners only confined on the day of my inspection, viz.


Male criminals:  36  

Female:  15

Debtors: 13

Lunatics:  21

Total: . . . . 85


The average daily number last year was 104, and the present year will be only 90, so that crime has been diminished considerably. 
The accommodation provided is as follows



Considerable exertions have been made in this county gaol, to establish work for all prisoners, especially in teaching the younger prisoners a trade; and the result has been that 18 left the prison within the year able to earn their bread, and some of them are known to be engaged at honest industry. 

Stone and bone breaking are used for those sentenced to short confinements; the tread-wheel for the hard-labour sentences; and the trades in use are weaving, shoemaking, tailoring, coopering, and not-making; and blankets for the use of the gaol are manufactured. The legal profits, viz., one-third of clear earnings, are paid to the prisoners on leaving prison. 


A good school is established under the care of a qualified master; much good has arisen, from it; and the registry of improvement is kept. 
The turnkeys assist, and it appears that 66 prisoners have learned to read or write, and obtained some knowledge of arithmetic, in the current year. The female department is carried on under the care of a good Matron and assistant. 

Female Classes.

There are two classes only. Theo prisoners receive school instruction, are clothed in a prison dress, and employed at washing, sewing & knitting. The female lunatics committed to gaol, are mixed up with the criminals, and create much noise and confusion; but they will I trust soon be removed. 

A few benevolent ladies continue to visit this class with good effect. The separation of the females at work would be a valuable alteration, whenever it can be introduced. 



The hospitals are conducted with much care and economy by Dr. Carter. The sick are daily attended to in separate infirmaries, the expense is very moderate, and no epidemic disease has occurred to call for special observation.  An apothecary attends regularly, to compound the medicines; and the humane care paid to the lunatics by the medical officer has produced some cures and convalescent cases. 

Books & Accounts

I minutely inspected the books, registries, and accounts, and found them correctly kept, and with sufficient checks on all issues and receipts, under the care of a competent clerk, and supervision of the Local Inspector and Governor. 


The food of the prisoners is economically provided by the Board of Superintendence, and is good in quality and legal in quantity.  It is consumed in the cells with much regularity, and the expense will not exceed, this year, 2\d. per head per day. The sub-officers all receive rations in this gaol. 


The Local Inspector is an excellent public officer, and takes a great interest in all the interior economy of the prison; and the Chaplains attend to their various duties.


General Observations. 

The Governor, Mr. Beatty, is a zealous and intelligent officer; and to his care and attention is to be attributed the orderly and good state of this public county establishment.  He is assisted by a qualified deputy governor; and his turnkeys appear to be well selected for their duty. 
The Board of Superintendence meet monthly, to settle all accounts, to make contracts, and direct the interior management of the gaol. 

A meeting of this Board was held on the day of my inspection, and I explained my views to them, which, with their usual kindness, they undertook to recommend and attend to:

The prisoners are all clothed in a gaol dress, at a cost of 19s. per suit. The turnkeys are also allowed a uniform dress. 

The classification of crime is preserved, and there were no complaints from the prisoners.  Doctor White's suggestions have been attended to. 

The expenditure of this county gaol, with other statistics, arc given in our Appendix, No. 2. 


James Palmer, Inspector-General.









County of Sligo Gaol. 

Visited 22nd November, 1847. 



State and Accommodation. 

It must be a most disheartening thing to every person connected with this excellent and well-managed establishment to find themselves compelled, by the unavoidable misfortunes of the country, to relax the regulations which had worked so well, and tended so much to make this gaol nearly a model of what a prison should be namely, a place not only of punishment, but a school of well-regulated discipline and industry.

Nevertheless, the officers of Sligo gaol appear to have exerted themselves to the utmost to make the evil as little felt as possible. 
When I say, however, that with only 84 separate cells, the number of prisoners amounts to 231, it will be obvious that proper classification is impossible, and that nothing is left except to do the best that can be done by means of superintendence and employment. 


The cells are large and airy, but so great is the crowd that beds have been laid down on the floors of all the day rooms, and every other available spot. 

The gaol clothing is good, and the bedding and sheets clean and in good repair. In the pauper debtor class alone there are 40 poor men in four small rooms. It is needless to say that the greatest attention is paid to cleanliness and ventilation, otherwise disease must break out in such crowded sleeping rooms. 

The presence of a considerable number of convicts, who could not be removed, makes matters worse. There have been 40 separate sheds built in the yards, but as they are open to the front are of little use for anything but stone-breaking, I would suggest to the Board to have them boarded, closed in front, and heated by a stove -at one end, and a flue running the whole length, when they would answer admirably for separate employment at trades. 

The numbers in the different classes were as following:

Employment and Schools: 

The gaol clothing is all made in the gaol. There is a shoemaker turnkey in the prison who instructs a large class, and has taught many young prisoners the trade. The same may be said of the officer who instructs the tailors. In fact, the work in both these trades is of a very superior description. 

The school registry is well and correctly kept. Each of the turnkeys instructs his own class ; and the schoolmaster, who teaches those prisoners who have learned more than the mere rudiments of education, examines each class in turn, and advances those who have improved. This department is well conducted. Almost all the prisoners are kept employed, although the numbers render this difficult. There were shoemakers, tailors, one carpenter, two masons, and a large class of oakum-pickers at work, besides the hard labour class at the wheel. 


Female Department:

The Matron seems a very respectable and active person. The laundry is good, and all the washing is done in the gaol. There is a good drying house, and a small, but neat store. The large room, formerly used as such, has, of necessity, been converted into a sleeping room. 
Classification, except by character, cannot be attended to, where 40 prisoners have only 11 cells and a couple of rooms with beds to sleep in, more especially when among that number 17 are lunatics. 


This is the greatest evil under which our county gaols suffer. The department, nevertheless, is clean and airy, but the school has, of necessity, been given up.  

The lunatics are kept employed, generally knitting, and are consequently less troublesome than might have been expected. They are well and kindly taken care of. 



The dietary is good and wholesome: 

Breakfast: 8 oz. of oatmeal for stirabout, and 1 pint of new milk. 
Dinner:, 1 lb. of bread, and 1 pint of buttermilk. 


Books and Accounts:

The books and accounts are very well arranged, but I consider the registries too numerous for convenience. The Governor's journal is well kept; and the punishment book shows that offences are few and punishments light. The pass-books are properly kept, and the system of checks is excellent. 



The officers, generally speaking, are well selected, and good in the subordinate classes.  Where there is so much to praise, it is useless to record any opinion of the Local Inspector and Governor, except what may be gathered from the state of the prison under their charge.  


The hospitals are well divided, clean, and airy.  The prison is exceedingly healthy - a very rare thing this year. There is an excellent form of registry kept. The yards are large and any.  There are only three male lunatics.  
The excellent turnkey who used to take charge of this unhappy class must, I fear, be superannuated. He will be a great loss. Doctor Carter seems indefatigable in his care of the hospital. A proper prescription book is wanting to meet the requirement of the Prisons' Act. 


General Observations:

There is a large and well-arranged store-room for the clothing of the male prisoners; an improvement might, I think, be made in its ventilation by breaking out windows, so as to give a thorough draught, which is much wanting. 

The number of commitments to Sligo gaol during  the past year was:

Males:  488,   Females: 120,  Total: 608 



Males:  28,    Females: 25,   Total:  53 T

Those prisoners who have been recommitted are marked with a large R on their clothing. The contract prices are moderate: Oatmeal, 15s. per cwt.; Indian meal, 12s. per cwt.; bread, 2d. per lb.;  new milk, 6d. per gallon. 


Clement Johnson, Inspector-General









County of Sligo  Visited 9th September, 1848. 

State and Accommodation. 

By referring to the last Annual Report, it will be found that there has been an increase of 31 prisoners since that period. This increase, I should say, has been chiefly in the number of convicted felons, there being now 95 of that class, and only 66 in the previous inspection. 


There are 84 single cells, 21 rooms with beds, exclusive of solitary cells, and hospital accommodation. All the day-rooms, but one, have been furnished with beds.  The cells are all clean, and properly furnished with the necessary beds and bedding, besides sheets. The storage is excellent, and the condition of the prisoners' private clothing is most praiseworthy. 

Indeed the whole prison is well ventilated, and presents the gratifying appearance of a healthy and well-regulated establishment. The perfect application of the tread-wheels (of which there are three) to an ample supply of water throughout the prison, and the clearing of the sewers, has mainly contributed to the freedom from disease enjoyed by the inmates of the gaol. 

Working sheds have been erected in the yards; and thus the prisoners are kept constantly and usefully employed. The chapel, I must say, is too small, and badly arranged. The solitary cells, of which there are 5, and which are well constructed, are warmed in winter by hot air tubes.


Employment and Schools: 

The male prisoners are employed in shoe-making, tailoring, net and mat-making, oakum-picking, and making bone manure. The females are engaged in sewing, knitting, washing, and other prison duties. An intelligent turnkey conducts a school in the male class, and some prisoners have made good progress; but the overcrowded state of the prison, added to the confusion caused by the lunatics especially, have prevented any teaching being carried on for some time in the female department.


The prison clothing is made in the gaol. 


Female Department:

I found this department in the same good order as the rest of the prison. There were 50 female prisoners, including 16 lunatics. The latter were troublesome in the extreme; and the constant attention which they require inevitably entails a suspension of those salutary rules essential for the due management of the prisoners. 

The laundry is on a good construction, and was undergoing repairs on my inspection. The drying-room is very well arranged. The school-room, which has been rendered useless from the circumstances already referred to, has been converted into a sleeping-room. 



Breakfast: 8 oz. of Indian meal stirabout, and 1 pint of new-milk. 
Dinner: 4 lbs. of potatoes, and I pint of buttermilk. 


The provisions appear to be of excellent quality, and sufficiently supplied. 


Books and Accounts:

The books are most correctly kept; and the state of the finances is most satisfactory, there being at the moment, notwithstanding all present difficulties, the sum of £86 2s 11d  to the credit of the county.

The deputy-governor, turnkeys, matron, and nurse tender, are the officers reported to "be on gaol allowance". The salaries of the matron and her assistant appear inadequate. The turnkeys who sleep in gaol are clothed in the uniform. 


The hospital was in very good order; and a proper separation between the male and female wards.  The compounding department, which is superintended by an efficient apothecary, who is salaried, is most conveniently arranged. Dr Lynne pays constant, and, as it would appear, most successful attention to the health of the prisoners.  Dr Little, the surgeon of the county infirmary, affords his yaluable advice whenever called upon. 

There were but 13 deaths (males, 10, and females, 3,) within the year preceding my inspection, on which occasion there was not a patient infected with any contagious disease. 



The lunatics (16 females) were in a most afflicting state of derangement, but kindly and constantly superintended by the matrons, whose onerous duties are thereby much increased, and their salutary influence over the other prisoners proportionally diminished. 

The Board of Superintendence meets on the first Monday in every month; and the state of the whole establishment affords ample testimony of the zeal and efficiency with which their duties are performed. 


General Observations:

On the day of my inspection I had the pleasure of meeting the following members of the Board of Superintendence, who most kindly accompanied me through the prison: John Wynne, James Wood, Jemmet Duke, and Knox Barret, Esqrs.  
My foregoing observations will more amply testify than anything I can here add, the judicious system which, under many difficulties, regulates the whole of this most important and interesting establishment. 

The local inspector is evidently experienced in, and devoted to, the duties appertaining to his office. 

And it is but fair to add, that the governor, his deputy and subordinates, appear well acquainted with their respective duties. 
Classification is carried out to the extent which the present crowded state of the prison will admit; but the board justly complain of the injury which discipline constantly undergoes by the detention of so many convicts under sentence of transportation : 10 of the latter class have been confined here for more than a year since their conviction, and 4 for more than a year and a half. 


Nicholas Fitzsimon, Inspector-General









County Sligo Gaol - Visited 16th May 1849

Contrary to what generally prevails, this gaol exhibits only the small increase of five over the number of inmates recorded in the last Report; but though so far fortunate, it must still be considered in a miserably crowded state as long as it is found necessary to place three in a single cell; and the day-rooms are occupied as dormitories, to the exclusion of trade-works and the usual school instruction. 

The drainage is very perfect. Water is raised by the treadmill from the river into a cistern, from which it flows through the main sewers daily, and through the others communicating with the privies once a week. 

The drinking-water is supplied by means of pipes, from a source about a mile distant, at an elevation higher than the prison, and consequently easily conducted to all parts of the building. The prisoners, on their entrance, are examined by the medical officer, and bathed, and a prison dress is given them --- their own clothes being fumigated in an oven and then placed in store. The baths used for this purpose being in the hospital, which is an inconvenient locality, it would be highly desirable to have another bath, with a proper reception-room, near the entrance. 

There are 84 cells and 21 rooms with beds. Of the latter, five are day-rooms, including the school-room, fitted up with beds for the purpose. There is also a large store-room over the mill-house which, on an emergency, might contain 20 beds. 

The bedding appears good, and, very properly, includes sheets ---- bedsteads, however, are required in some of the wards. Much inconvenience would be spared were cots substituted for the clumsy iron bedstead, which sometimes contain three men. 

The prisoners take their meals in their cells. Classification is attempted and salience is enforced with some success. The prisoner-wash in buckets in the yards. 

In the kitchen the usual steam apparatus, intended originally for potatoes, is now used for cooking the stirabout. There are five solitary cells, each with a yard before it, and warmed by iron pipe-, but I think hardly sufficiently ventilated. 

The prison dresses, as well as shoes, are all made up here. A turnkey gives instruction in shoemaking, and the deputy-governor, although not brought up to the trade of a tailor is able to direct this part of the work. Bone-breaking is found the most profitable employment. That is to be regretted, as, although great care is used in the selection of the article, yet some effluvia is perceptible; and I cannot but think that occasionally the presence of animal matter, in a state of decomposition, may have noxious effects. 

There are six work-rooms, but five are occupied as dormitories. Washing-sheds are erected in the yards, with partitions, that each man may work separately. One of these ranges is furnished with doors, so that they might, if necessary, be converted into sleeping-cells. One of the turnkeys is appointed a regular schoolmaster by the National Board. In addition to this, each turnkey gives elementary instruction to his class. 
These scholars, when sufficiently advanced, were formerly transferred to the schoolmaster, but as he is now obliged to act as turnkey, this part of the system is dropped for the present. A school-register is kept by each turnkey, which shows considerable progress made by the pupils.


Female Department:

This contains 11 single cells, and 11 rooms with beds, including one large one over the laundry capable of holding 20 beds, and which it is intended to convert into a cholera hospital for the females, should that disease unfortunately prevail. 
The women are divided into three classes, one consisting of those who, being implicated with their husbands in breaches of the revenue laws, can hardly be considered in the same light as other criminals. 


The employments of the females are given above. The laundry is good, and there is a spacious drying-room above it. At present there is no school, although in ordinary times the matron and her assistant instruct daily. This department appeared very well managed as far as I could observe. 



Breakfast:  4 oz. of oat, and 4 oz. of Indian-meal, and 1 pint of buttermilk. 
Dinner:  1 lb. of whole wheaten meal bread, and 1 pint of new-milk. 


The provisions are regularly inspected.  The bread is supplied by contract, and complaints were made of it by one man only, however. It did not appear to me either unwholesome or unpalatable. 


Books and Accounts:

The books, which are kept by the Governor and his deputy, are very numerous there being no less than seven registries. The number of drunkards committed is small, there appearing only 21 since the 1st January.  The punishments seem very infrequent. The chocks on consumption are sufficient. 

I was glad to find that the prison has a balance in hand of £451 10s. 2d. 




The officers' visits were: 

Local Inspector, -202 
Surgeon, 313 
Protestant Chaplain ---155 
Presbyterian Chaplain - -151 
Roman Catholic do. 98 


The turnkeys wear a very handsome uniform, and seem to know their duties.  The Deputy-Governor, I was sorry to learn, was suffering from an attack of fever, but was not supposed to be in any danger. 



This is a detached building, containing nine rooms on each side for the different sexes. It is proposed should cholera be in the gaol, to keep the whole for the males, and remove the female patients to the large room in the department already mentioned. 
There were 14 sick at the time of my visit, including three cases of fever which, however, were not expected to terminate fatally. There is a regular apothecary who compounds the medicines, which are imported from Glasgow. 



There is one alleged lunatic, a very interesting-looking little girl, who has been here for some time, and will soon be removed. She is in fact idiotic from epileptic fits. 


Board of Superintendence:

The Board meet on the first Monday in every month, when there is always a sufficient attendance. 
That they take an interest in the prison was apparent from two of the members being kind enough to accompany me through it. 


General Observations:

I have nothing to add to the foregoing observations, except to express a hope, that should the time arrive when the occupants of this gaol shall be reduced to the average limits, the same good management that is now so apparent in all the departments, will enforce a system of works by which every inmate may be employed in productive labour, while at the same time receiving the benefits of moral instruction.


Mr Frederick B-Long,  Inspector General

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