Thursday Doors


Governor John Barry Murphy

Continuing the tour of inside Cork City Gaol this week makes for a very sombre Thursday Doors post. However, the first room we ventured into wasn’t too daunting – it even had the warm glow of a fire and a kindly looking governor seated at his desk. Queen Victoria herself kept a watchful eye over him from her position over the mantelpiece.


John Barry Murphy was governor between 1856 and 1873 and was considered to be a humane and just man, liked by all the prisoners. He abolished the silence laws when it was found that many prisoners were going insane because of it and ending up in the city asylum. He was the first Catholic governor to get the job at a time when the British government appointed Irish Catholics to important positions as an act of appeasement. The governor’s salary in those days was Ā£250 a year (equivalent to Ā£27,000 today) plus house and fuel.


On arrival, all prisoners were deloused and then brought to the governor’s office. The first inmate we encountered was Mary Sullivan. She was a seamstress by trade but had a habit of stealing the cloth she worked on. In 1865 she received a seven year sentence for her eighth conviction of theft.


In one of the cells we found Mary McDonnell fast asleep. She was lying on a canvass mattress which had replaced the less healthy straw ones used before 1860. This woman had been imprisoned for neglecting her children, beating one of them and being drunk and accosting a gentleman. Her unfortunate children were taken to the workhouse in Cork while their mother served her sentence of one month with hard labour.


If you think the person being flogged is a young man you’d be wrong. It’s a nine year old boy, who had seven previous convictions for petty theft.


This was the saddest story for me. Edward O’Brien was a child prisoner and a well known pickpocket. On this occasion he had been sentenced to three weeks in prison with whippings twice weekly. After serving his time in Cork City Gaol, Edward was sent to a reformatory school for five years.

Some of those incarcerated were extremely young, like Mary-Ann Twohig’s infant son.


Sixteen year old Mary-Ann was heavily pregnant and stole a cloth cap and kitchen utensils, intent on pawning them for some badly needed cash. She was arrested but sentenced to only two months imprisonment, without hard labour, because of her advanced pregnancy. Her baby was born in the prison hospital and Mary-Ann, along with her son, was returned to her cell just two days later. Speaking of babies, what is one of the main concerns with a newborn? Their weight gain – which reminds me of last week’s question about the strange looking chair.


This is a replica of the weighing scales that was used to record the inmates’ weight, which was checked periodically to ensure that they were receiving their full ration of food. A prisoner would sit in the chair while weights were added to the back. Once the two sides were level, the weight would be recorded.

Part three of this tour will be continued next week but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with another photograph to ponder over.


Why do you think this prisoner’s clothes have been left outside his cell door?

If you head on over to Norm’s blog you’ll find some interesting Thursday Doors.

About Jean Reinhardt

Author of 'A Pocket Full of Shells' an Amazon International best seller, Jean writes young adult and historical fiction. She has been known to shed a tear over Little House on the Prairie.
This entry was posted in social issues, society, Thursday Doors, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Thursday Doors

  1. The spookiest thing for me are those rather weirdly-fashioned people who look slightly alien!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Matt says:

    Wow, this place gives me the creeps.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great historical post, I just couldn’t bring myself to hit ‘like’ because of the content. Thank you for taking the time to create it for us. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dennyho says:

    Eerie but so interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Thursday 19th January 2017 – Dogs vs. Snow, Safari, Afriku, FB spats and Cork City Gaol | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  6. Dan Antion says:

    Wonderful, albeit sad, photos and great history, Jean.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It must have been freezing in those cells! The mystery of the chair is solved! A scale! I never would have guessed that.

    As to the prisoners clothes being outside the cell door…clean clothes to be sent to the gallows in? I hope not, but that’s what comes to my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jesh stg says:

    The details of your post reveal your love for writing! Also your teaser of the scale-chair (it made me smile). Am glad the law of silence was abolished — it’s sounds like a variant of solitary confinement:( True, sombre, but a terrific post, Jean!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The silent rule was terrible and it drove some people mad. Even the warders had to wear cloth over their shoes to deaden the sound of their footsteps. No talking, no noise of any sort was allowed. Can you imagine never hearing a sound all day and all night. Springtime might not be too bad, with the birds singing outside but in winter it would just reinforce the feeling of isolation and loneliness. No wonder some of the inmates ended up in the asylum.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. jan says:

    What a sad place. I really have no idea why his clothes were outside the door but I imagine it’s something sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. willowdot21 says:

    Another excellent tour thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. sjhigbee says:

    What a heartbreaking place… And I would NEVER have guessed those were scales – but it is a comfort to know they were going to the trouble of checking that the prisoners were receiving sufficient food… Thank you for sharing this, Jean.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. socialbridge says:

    What a shocker and there I was waiting for a bright red door. (They keep catching my eye everywhere I go these days.)
    This post of yours is enough to make me determined to stay on the right side of the law no matter what!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Candy says:

    Oh my! We should be thanking our lucky star we weren’t born in that century. Thanks for this look into history. Looking forward to next week.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Norm 2.0 says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tour Jean. It was a different world back then. Thankfully we’ve evolved a lot, but it’s hard not to be saddened and angered by the injustices that many were forced to endure.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. inesephoto says:

    The Gaol! I wrote a blog on it two years ago. I was very impressed. Some place! Thank you for sharing, it is always interesting to look at familiar place from another point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah, the bad old days. My first inclination, based not only on this, but all I’ve read of history, is to say things are much better now. Of course, in many ways, they are, but all the rape and other things that go on in prisons now are things that may not have happened then.


    Liked by 1 person

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