This week’s Thursday Doors tour of Cork City Gaol features some interesting characters, such as these two warders playing cards while they are off-duty. In those days a warder, along with his wife and children, would have all lived in this one room. It might have been okay as a bedsit but it was certainly a tight squeeze for a family.
I bumped into the prison doctor as I left the West Wing but he didn’t have time to stop for a chat. He was on his way to attend a sick prisoner. One of the warders was escorting him.
Doctor Beamish spent many years tending sick prisoners in the city gaol. By all accounts, he was underpaid and overworked, treating everything from minor infections and fevers to small pox, typhus and even malaria at one time. An outbreak involving almost 1,000 cases occurred in Cork in the mid 1800’s. It was believed that infected soldiers brought it back when they returned from the Crimean War and it was transmitted by local mosquito populations.
One famous person to have been incarcerated in Cork Gaol was Countess Constance Markievicz, known as the ‘Rebel Countess’ here in Ireland.
She was passionate about equality and women’s rights and was dismayed at the great disparity between rich and poor in Irish society. This was in spite of her being born into a family of landed gentry and having lived a privileged life on their extensive estate, ‘Lissadell’ in Sligo. The Countess set up food kitchens for the poor, assisted in their education and rescued children from the slums in which so many lived. She went to great lengths to ensure those children had clean clothes and food on their plates every day.
Constance also supported Jim Larkin in the Labour movement against the exploitation of workers. When James Connolly founded the Irish Citizens Army to defend workers against police brutality Constance was among the first of his supporters. She later became an officer in the Irish Citizens Army.
During the Easter Rising of 1916, the Countess was second in command under Michael Mallin and proved fearless under fire, fighting alongside the men. After their defeat, Constance Markievicz marched at the head of her company. She was tried for treason to the Crown and sentenced to death. However, this was commuted because she was a woman and she resented being discriminated against because of her sex. All of the other male leaders of the rising were executed, except for Eamon deValera, who was spared because he was an American citizen. Over the next seven years the Countess was incarcerated for various lengths of time in quite a few prisons in the UK and Ireland, one of which was Cork City Gaol.
It was during her stay in Holloway that Constance Markievicz became a Sinn Féin candidate and the first woman ever to be elected to British parliament. She refused to take her seat, as was the party policy at the time. After her release in 1919 she became a member of the first Dáil Éireann as minister for Labour.
The Rebel Countess died at the age of 59 on 15th July 1927, of complications related to appendicitis. She had given away the last of her wealth and died among the poor in a public ward of a Dublin hospital.
Last week I posted this photo of a prisoner’s clothes outside his cell door. The reason they were there was because he had been caught trying to escape. When a prisoner did this, all of his clothes were taken from him at night to prevent any more attempts at absconding. The thinking was that he would not be so quick to do so if he was stark naked. Pretty chilly punishment at any time of year in an Irish prison.
I’ll be posting the last of the photos from Cork City Gaol in next week’s Thursday Doors. Thanks for stopping by and if you take a trip over to Norm’s blog you’ll find a great selection of international doors waiting for you.