Prison Education News

CDETB Educational Service to Prisons






Historical Notes

For the most part, the content of this webpage comes from articles that had been put together for the Mountjoy Education Centre magazines of the 1990's. There has always been an interest in prison history and some dedicated prison officers have collected and 'preserved' documents and others items of historical significance. A number of such pieces are on display in Mountjoy's prison museum. In 2007, two members of the teaching staff collaborated on the production of a DVD documentary on this museum. In the DVD, the officer who looks after the museum gives his own personal tour of the museum and also of the Hanging Cell. Despite now being retired, he continues to take care of the museum.

Fenians in Mountjoy

Mountjoy is a purpose-built prison dating from 1850. It was built as the model Victorian prison, to replace the decaying, corrupt and ramshackle institution that was Newgate Prison - now Green Street courthouse. Prison reform came to be regarded as a crucial measure to improve on the previously appalling conditions that existed in prisons of the 18th and early 19th centuries. While these reforms did have some genuine humanitarian motives, they were mostly to do with creating a more efficient prison system, which the prison authorities demanded for easier control of inmates.

One of the first tasks of the new prison was to separate the various categories of prisoners, the most obvious being men and women, and then by different offences. The new prison was designed with a centre block - used for prison administration and officers' quarters - with four wing blocks radiating from it where the inmates were held. The yards and outlying sheds were designated for varying degrees of hard labour.

Life for all the inmates in Mountjoy was harsh, despite most of the Victorian idealism associated with penal reforms. Incarceration in the new model prisons became the preferred option, as opposed to transportation.

Mountjoy also took on the role of a political prison. Those incarcerated within it included members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) or Fenians involved in the risings of 1865 and 1867, most of whom were transferred to English prisons. This illustration first appeared in the French newspaper 'Le Monde Illustre' in 1867 and shows Fenian prisoners at recreation in an enclosure in Mountjoy Prison. The associated caption reads "Dublin – Mountjoy prison – Vue de l’enceinte grillée destinée à contenir les prisonniers fenians pendant la récréation. (D’après le croquis de M. Barrère.)"

John Keegan Casey

John Keegan Casey was born in Mount Dalton near Mullingar. When only 16, his first poem appeared in 'The Nation' under the nom de plume “Leo” which he used throughout his short life. His first collection of poems - Wreath of Shamrocks – was published in 1866. He became involved in the Fenian Movement in the 1860s and joined the staff of the Irish People, was arrested along with the editor- John O'Leary and imprisoned in Mountjoy in 1867, where he served six months. While in prison, he carried out romantic correspondence with Mary Briscoe and four days after his release they were married in the Pro-Cathedral.

A condition of his release was that he leave Ireland. This he ignored, disguised himself as a Quaker for a few months and went under the name of Mr. Harrison.

In 1869 he published his second collection of poems, The Rising of the Moon. He died of tuberculosis in 1870 and was buried in Glasnevin.

He wrote about his Mountjoy experience in a piece titled Mountjoy Prison Life and the following are selected extracts from his writings:

"Inside the prison gate, under the shadow of the prison roof, with the glare of gas shining on my face, the prison warders have received me into custody - the Royal Irish have retired; my clothes are searched - money, watch and everything found with me taken - and then the prison rules are read for my special edification and instruction. I find that I am to be confined strictly to my cell, where I must remain in perfect silence for twenty one out of twenty four hours. During the other three I get exercise in a ring, where I am not allowed to speak to any prisoner save one selected to walk along with me. Three days’ bread and water, without exercise, for looking out of the cell window, singing, writing on wall or door, dancing, making unnecessary noise in cell, using the floor as a spitoon, bringing the pipe into my cell (I was allowed smoking at exercise, buying my own tobacco, of course). Punishment according to Captain Barlow's (the prison inspector) discretion for refusing to obey prison officials, or in any other way displeasing them, not washing the floor of my cell and washing basin, not making up my bed in the morning at six o'clock. According to prison regulations, I am allowed to write one letter per day to my friends, which must pass the inspection of P.J.Murray, the prison director, at his office in the Castle, who also receives all communications from outside, which he admits to me at his will and pleasure. No newspapers or news of any kind permitted, and if obtained surreptitiously, punishment will follow. Regarding admission of friends as visitors, no relatives farther than nephew and niece admitted, and those nearer only once a week, in presence of two warders, on obtaining a pass from Sir Thomas Larcom."

"And now, speaking personally regarding the warders, they are all civil, in general. A few rascals are among them, who insult a man deliberately, and punish him whether he breaks the rules or not; but the majority do their duty fairly. You keep hat in hand for them, they report you for breach of the slightest rule, and Captain Barlow takes care to punish you.”

"I do not blame the Mountjoy officials at all, not even Barlow, the "Crimean hero" (who never smelt powder in his life). The director, the governor, and all connected with the prison must do the duty they are paid for doing; and, I believe, in the majority of cases, they do it as fairly as they can; but Captain Barlow is an exception, he is after the Kilmainham pattern. This is my candid opinion from all I've known of the fellow. I never knew him to look a man straight in the face, nor to give a man reported a fair hearing. Never!"

Escape from Womens Prison

Mountjoy Female Convict Prison (as it was then known) was built in 1858 on the grounds of Mountjoy Male Prison to replace Cork Female Prison. It was a smaller version of the Male prison.

As with its male counterpart, the Womens prison was used to incarcerate women who took part in the War of Independence (1919-1921). Four of these women decided to draw up an escape plan. They were: Linda Kearns from Sligo, serving 10 years for possession of firearms; Aileen Keogh from Co. Carlow, serving 2 years for possession of explosives; May Burke from Co. Limerick, serving 2 years for giving copies of military ciphers to the IRA and Annie Coyle from Donegal, serving 12 months for possession of seditious documents. Linda Kearns was the main organiser but she received valuable assistance from the officers who were sympathetic to the IRA. Keys were often left on tables and she was able to make wax impressions which were smuggled out during a visit and the duplicate keys smuggled back in on another visit. These keys gave the four access to the prison grounds. On the evening of 30th October, 1921, they made their escape using a rope ladder that had been tossed over the wall by those outside assisting in the escape plan. They were then driven away. An account of this 'daring' escape appeared in the New York Times newspaper on 31st of October. The scaled down photo-image shown here is of the article that appeared in the Times.
In 1956, C and D wings of the womens prison were given over to male juvenile offenders from St. Patrick's Institute in Clonmel, Co. Tiperary. In 1997, old prison cottages outside the walls of Mountjoy (built between 1888 and 1890) were demolished to make way for the new Womens prison. It is known as the Dóchas Centre and was opened in 1999.

Last Lines

Frank Flood was executed by hanging in Mountjoy Prison on the 14th of April, 1921. He was a lieutenant of H company, 1st battalion, of the Dublin brigade, IRA. This was the same battalion as that of Kevin Barry who was the first person to be executed in Mountjoy for about twenty years. He was hanged on 1st of November, 1920. Both had been students in UCD.

Frank was 19 at the time of his capture along with four others, Dermot O'Sullivan, Patrick Doyle, Thomas Bryan and Bernard Ryan, at the scene of an attempted ambush of Auxiliaries at Clonturk Park, Drumcondra. All five were sentenced to death by courtmartial but Dermot O'Sullivan, who was only 16½, was reprieved and his sentence commuted to penal servitude for life. All four were executed on the morning of Monday, 14th March, along with Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran, who had been rounded up after the shooting of a number of British intelligence agents in Dublin on 'Bloody Sunday', 14th. March 1921. The six were buried in one large grave in Mountjoy.

The last letters of Frank Flood, starting on Friday evening and ending on the Monday morning of his execution, survived and were passed onto the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul Convent in North William Street in the 1970's. The convent closed in 1995 and the letters are kept in the local national school. Copies were given to Mountjoy prison and are reproduced here unedited. The paper was embossed with the letters GR, George Rex, the then king of England. His last lines to his mother may have been the first letter she received because it was hand delivered - the creases in the paper show that it was folded up small for taking out by hand. The other letters were folded for putting in an envelope.

In the first letter to his sister, he hopes to be able to see her before his execution. There is no mention in any of the remaining letters of anyone from his family being in to see him. Either they did not receive news from him until after his execution or else were not allowed in to visit. No further comment is needed in relation to his last letters; they speak for themselves.

Francis H Flood

Friday Evg.

My dearest sister,
I know you must have heard what you may call bad news. Do not think of it as such. Think of the great grace God has given me. That ought be enough to console you. I almost fear writing to Ma. I can only pray that God will console her. She must never forget that God's will is our will.
I may see you before the appointed day, but this world is so uncertain. I have hopes. The governor will allowed you in if it is not forbidden by higher authorities. Everyone here have treated us very well. I do not like to praise anyone who might read this epistle, But I must say any Aussies I met here were men in the full meaning of the name.
I have no more to say except to commend myself to your pray and the prayers of all our friends.
Now sister, I must say goodbye or perhaps not Goodbye but Au Re voir for in afew years we will meet in heaven.
Farewell and may God bless and protect you till we meet in heaven
Your fond brother

Dear Mother,
I am asking the priest to send home my crucifix. I got it from one of the Sisters out of Gardiner St. Convents. She had it for about twenty years and I am sure you will appreciate it.
God bless you all. Frannie

Dearest Mother,
I am sending you a lock of hair and a small statue of Our Blessed Virgin Mary, which Sister Monica gave me. Pray often before it and I will always pray with you from heaven.
Till we meet with God I still remain your fond son

Sunday Evening
13th March

Dear Allice,
Just a line of Goodbye before leaving for Heaven. There must be no weeping after me. I am going where I might never have reach if I lived my ordinary life. Tomorrow I will be in heaven and praying for you and all who must remain here below after us. Now goodbye and God bless and protect you until we meet in heaven.
Again goodbye and always remember me as a true and fond brother and a Soldier of Ireland.

Last Letter

Dearest Mother,
The chap who bear this was a true friend to us all. He spent the last night with us. Well, he might as well have been a brother.
We are in heaven now and praying for all.
Think only of this.
God bless you