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Leinster Leader 5th August 1961


The stout walls of Naas Gaol are tumbling - walls which took such time and labour to construct fall under the bulldozers in a matter of minutes. But this landmark, familiar to every traveller to the south, will not be mourned by many; it is of no great historical or architectural value and is only about 130 years old.
On many previous occasions the townspeople had hoped that they were rid of what they considered an eyesore when the gaol was offered for sale or demolition – but no one was interested. Good use was found for some of the cut-stone from the walls when it was used to face the interior of the fine Mortuary Chapel in the Parish Church of Our Lady and St. David. A map preserved in the National Library, Dublin, and dated 1825, shows the area on which the gaol was to be built. The land belonged to a J. Murphy and an R. Lawler. A limekiln was situated on the western end of the site. The Market House, built in 1813 at Canal Harbour, is shown, as is the line of cottages which formerly stood on New Row. Building must have started soon after this map was made as the gaol was completed in 1833 at a cost of £14,000.
Had 96 Cells
The main wing of the building had 96 cells and a treadmill. Dining halls, wash-houses, etc., were included; there was a school and quarters for the governor and wardens. Executions were carried out in the gaol, over the massive main gate, according to local tradition. Most of the prisoners were those found guilty of agrarian offences and amongst the last men to be kept there were those convicted in connection with the Clongorey evictions. After barely sixty years of life the place was closed in the last decade of the 19th century, though some of the buildings there were used as residences until recent years. A glance at the accounts for the year 1835 will give some ideal of the routine of the institution. During a fever a barber was paid 5/- for shaving the heads of the prisoners, and £5 was the hangman’s fee for an execution carried out during the summer Assizes of that year. Eight turn-keys, as the warders were called, were employed and their suits cost £2-17-0 each. In 1861, bye-laws for the administration of the prison were drawn up; they provided for a staff which included a governor, matron, school master and chaplains.
Included in the records which had to be kept were those showing the punishments, the retention of juveniles and the diet of inmates. From the table of daily routine it can be seen that the prisoners had to rise at 6 a.m. in summertime, an hour later in winter; eight-bells, or lock up, was at 5.30 p.m., and earlier in wintertime. Stirabout, oatenmeal, milk, gruel, soup and brown bread appeared regularly on the menu.
Body ‘Snatched’
After his death, one of the warders, made news - his body was ‘snatched’ from Maudlins Cemetery. A contemporary account of this deed - which was then all too common - tells of the finding of the dead man’s grey hairs in the hedge over which his body had been lifted in the night. Before the opening of this ‘new’ gaol the prison was where the Town Hall now stands. Built on the site of an old castle, which had also been used as a gaol, it was known as ‘White’s Castle Gaol’ and it had been in use since about 1786.
A map of this building, also preserved in the National Library, shows it as it was in 1824. Provision was made for the incarceration of male and female prisoners, and the ‘debtors’ were separated from the ‘felons’. Exercise yards and a hospital were included in the plan.
From the prison records of 1791 it is learnt that the salary of the gaoler was £25 per annum, while a clergyman got £10 for inspecting the place, and the prison doctor was paid £11-17-6 per half year. Bread for the prisoners, for a year, cost £60. At another period, early in the 19th century, there was a bridewell on the Sallins Road. A private house now stands on the site.

An interesting article on the demolition of Naas Gaol from the Leinster Leader 5th August 1961. Re-typed by Aisling Dermody.

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