Dundalk Gaol 1853-1931, now home to Louth County Archives
The Governor’s House was joined to the prison’s two cell blocks through an inspection hall and is now home to the Garda Síochána. The A wing of the Gaol which was formerly the Women’s block is now home to Louth County Archives, and the B Wing which housed the male prisoners is now home to the Oriel Centre. The Gaol and its surrounding buildings were enclosed by a 20ft stone wall. The surrounding area of the Gaol originally contained grass and tillage plots, gravel areas, and additional buildings including the Gaol hospital. The old layout of the Gaol and its surroundings can be seen in the map below.
During the period that the Gaol housed political prisoners, many well known figures were interned here in Dundalk. These figures included- Frank Aiken (who later became a Government Minister for Defence, Finance, and External Affairs), Austin Stack (who later became the Minister for Home Affairs), Seán Treacy (leader of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the I.R.A during the War of Independence) and Diarmuid Lynch (who is said to have married Kathleen Quinn in Dundalk Gaol before his deportation). Amidst the Anglo-Irish struggle, a hunger strike took place in the Gaol which Stack led and Treacy took part in. During the Civil War there was a successful attempt made to rescue anti-treaty prisoners. On 27 July 1922, a mine was placed on the perimeter wall on the Ardee Road. This blew a hole in the stone wall and was followed by a grenade attack on the Gaol. It is estimated that 105 prisoners managed to escape during this attack, having previously been alerted to the plan. Many of the escapees were later recaptured. Frank Aiken was amongst the men who managed to escape. The destruction on the perimeter wall caused by the explosion can still be seen on entering the Archives building from the Ardee road. Details of the prisoners who escaped can also be seen on the Gaol Register, a copy of which is held here. A transcript of the escapees is also available on our website-http://www.louthcoco.ie/en/Services/Archives/Archive_Collections/.
In 1999 refurbishment work began on the Southern cell block of the Gaol in order to transform the building into a suitable premise for Louth’s Archives Service. A considerable amount of restoration work was carried out in order to accommodate long term preservation strategies. The Gaol’s solid stonewalls were painted with a special white and lime wash mix to allow them to breath. The old ventilation outlets were sealed and a dual air handling and heating system was installed to control the interior environmental conditions. The original features of the Gaol that had survived such as cell doors, number plates, and windows were restored. After approximately eighteen months of construction work, the building was transformed and the Archives service was opened. The collections now have secure and environmentally controlled storage while the public can access the Archive’s collections in our reading room.
Louth County Archives holds a small collection relating to Dundalk Gaol. Items can be viewed on display or in the reading room. The Archive has a historical cell which is open to the public and holds a display of photographs and artefacts from the collection. A drawing of the Gaol layout (P408) was donated by the Dundalk Gardaí. This was designed by Jeremiagh J Hayes and is dated 1914. This is on display in the Archives. There is a Jail Register dated from 1917-1931 which is held in the National Archives. Louth Archives holds a microfilm copy of the register which can be viewed in our reading room. The image below (NAI/PRIS/1/16/1) is a digital copy of a page from the register. This copy was sent by the National Archives and we would like to acknowledge the Director for giving us permission to use this image. The entries show the names and descriptions of the prisoners and also detail the offence which they committed. The image below contains the entry for Frank Aiken and notes the day of his escape- "Rescued from custody 27.7.22". Other items included in this story box feature a photograph (PP256) showing the Gaol building from the front, looking at the Governor’s house. This was donated by the Old Dundalk Society. There are also two images from an autograph book (PP11_005) held here which was compiled by Packie Flynn who was a prisoner in the jail during 1918. The final image shows the historical cell located in the Archives building.
Louth County Archives is open to researchers Monday to Friday 9am-4pm by appointment only. Readers can come in to see the historical cell, the items on display in the entrance, research our collections in the reading room, or come into our exhibition space which currently holds the ‘Our Louth Volunteers 1914-1918’ exhibition. For further information please visit our website - http://www.louthcoco.ie/en/Services/Archives/.
We would like to acknowledge the Director of the National Archives for granting permission to use the image from the Jail Register.
We would also like to acknowledge the Old Dundalk Society for the use of the photograph of Dundalk Gaol.