Located in Wicklow, Ireland, Wicklow Gaol first opened its gates in 1702. They would come to be known as “The Gates of Hell” and for good reason.
Today, the granite building looms over the Market Square in the town on Ireland’s southeast coast, and the gates have been moved inside the building, but their power and the building’s history is still palpable.
The first recorded prisoner, Friar Owen McFee, was in his 70s and was arrested for saying Mass. In its prime, Wicklow Gaol housed men, women and children who were all mixed in with general population which also included the mentally ill, as there were no mental asylums or care facilities at the time.
Some of the more infamous prisoners included Billy Byrne, who was tried for ambush attacks during the 1798 rebellion and then hung at the Gallows’ Lane, and James “Napper” Tandy for political treason who was exiled after a short imprisonment.
Then there was Erskine Childers, a London born author and sailor. He was firm in his belief that Ireland should be a free nation and so he used his yacht, the Asgard, to smuggle guns to the east coast of Ireland. Childers was caught in possession of a weapon, convicted & executed by firing squad on November 24, 1922.
And let’s not forget the brutal jailer named Richard Hoey know for his merciless torture of prisoners. Hoey was also know to let the children prisoners out at night to steal for him. Some of the children were born there, but many were arrested for stealing food. Starvation and famine hit the area hard in the Potato Famine of the 1840’s, and some would even commit crimes so they would be jailed and receive food.
At the entrance of the Gaol today, if you look up you can still see the Gallows bar, slightly bent, as this is the site of executions. Other means of torture included the Treadwheel that was introduced into the facility in 1820, the Shot Drill and whipping.
The bodies of deceased prisoners were thrown into the sea until they grew in such numbers that fishermen refused to fish the waters because of the contamination. Bodies were then recovered and buried. In the 1990’s some bodies, covered in lime to cover the stench of decay, were found in the jail yard. It was not uncommon for those who were hanged to have their heads severed and fed to the prison’s “pet” hawk.
The Gates of Hell formally closed the doors forever as a prison in 1924. Prior to that it was downsized in 1877. Wicklow Gaol lay dormant until the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) brought the prison back into use. It held political prisoners at that time and was later used as army barracks. Calling it home was the Cheshire Regiment, the irony was that approximately 30 years prior, the regiment was founded by none other than Hugh Childers, a relative of Wicklow Gaol’s famous Erskine Childers.
With such a long past full of cruelty, horror and sorrow, it is no wonder that Wicklow Gaol is listed as one of the 10 most haunted locations in the world.
The reports of paranormal activity have attracted interest from paranormal investigators worldwide, from novices to professionals such as the Ghost Hunters International crew. Witnesses have reported a young child seen and heard in the former school room as well as ghostly figures of inmates going in and out of cells and along walkways. A female apparition, believed to be that of Matron Mary Morris appears in a hooded dark cloak, roaming around the main building, and in one particular area, women seem to be overcome with an anxiety.
Smells are also attributed to the hauntings, in particular from cell #5 and while sometimes it is faint, there are times when the stench has been reported as noxious fumes. A green mist is reported around the main building.
The list goes on and on.
Today tours are given daily and actors, who never break character, appear in period clothing conducting the tours as well as re-enacting “scenes” from prison life. Night tours are given to adults, 18 years of age and older. This is their paranormal tour that begins at 9:00 P.M. and ends between 2:00 A.M. – 3:00 A.M. These tours have a strict no alcohol policy, and the use of an Ouija Board or any other object of similar nature is forbidden.
There is within Wicklow Gaol a restaurant called The Jailer’s Rest Café and Restaurant, a gift shop and even a genealogy center that allows visitors to research their ancestors.
For more information, you can visit their website or call 00353 (0)404-61599.