Wicklow Gaol opened in the early 18th-century. As was typical in those times, poverty was a major factor in determining who, how, and why someone could end up in such a place. Inmates were mainly illiterate and, until laws were reformed, their prospects would have been limited from the day they were born. Society was tough and unforgiving with little reward for a hard day’s work, and some would have to steal to survive.
A set of gates at the prison date to 1702 and were known as “the gates of hell”. Those who passed through them often had little chance of coming put alive. A staff member at the gaol reported being shoved by unseen hands while he waited at the gates of hell to surprise a group of visitors.
Many of those who passed through the gates all those years ago, were guilty of petty crimes but they would have been imprisoned alongside rapists and murderers in appalling conditions. Sickness and disease would have been rampant due to the lack of hygiene awareness among inmates and the absence of the most basic of facilities. Sometimes, dead prisoners would be left to rot in the cells alongside their living cellmates for fear that the guards might get sick if they entered to remove the bodies. It was a bleak, hopeless place. Inmates would also be starved and face harsh punishments, banishment to overseas territories, or even execution. The execution door and gallows (minus the hangman’s noose) are clearly visible on the front of the building to this day.
While reviews were carried out during the life of the prison and changes were made to make life a little more tolerable, the old jail remained an incredibly grim site until its closure in 1900. The jail was briefly reopened to accommodate political prisoners, but it sat empty for many years until restoration works commenced in the 1990s. Now a popular, interactive tourist attraction, The Wicklow Gaol is considered by many to be one of the country’s most haunted locations and has been the subject of several paranormal investigations.
Children were said to have had a particularly tough time at the old jail. Some were simply born inside the walls while others were locked up for petty crimes. Little wonder that visitors have seen ghostly children on the top floor of the building, and others have heard them crying. A little girl dressed in ragged clothes has been seen in the schoolroom and guests have reported feeling their clothes being tugged or their leg being gently poked by an unseen hand. The school matron, Mary Morris, may well be the mysterious woman that has been spotted at the jail. She appears in a black hooded cloak.
Within the Wicklow Gaol, there are several exhibits depicting key times from Irish history, and one of these relates to the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Multiple witnesses saw shadows moving across the stone floor in this area. Multiple shadows have been encountered, a strange mist has been reported on one of the walkways and the ghosts of several men have been sighted throughout the building. One is seen walking from cell 19 and along the corridor, while another has been spotted by the holding cell.
A third man has been sighted on the upper deck of a ship exhibit, which tells of how many prisoners were transferred to Australia. Witnesses, including a child, commented that there was a particularly friendly actor in this area, even though there were no actors assigned to that exhibit. They described him as wearing old clothes, the kind that the prisoners would have worn in their day.
Elsewhere, strange smells have been known to emanate from cell 5. Sometimes there is a foul stench reported here, while other times witnesses report the delicate scent of roses. The room has been cleared out, cleaned, and investigated but there is no explanation for the strange aromas.
I went with a group of friends in the middle of the night so it was pitch black down in the cells! We really enjoyed the guided tour led by a “medium.” I am a sceptic but I’ll admit we had some unexplainable moments. We had a great experience!
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