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History & Heritage > Buildings > The Old Jail

The Old Jail

The vast frontage of the Old Jail dominates the Square of the town. There is reason to believe it was built in the mid 1700’s and until recent times forty cells could be seen.
Incarceration could be employed to deal with those found guilty of swearing false oaths, stealing horse or sheep and the usual felonies. It was often the first port of call before transfer to Kilmainham Jail in Dublin or to the Colonies.

It is reputed to have had the only hang woman ever recorded serving here and she was known as Lady Betty. She probably plied her trade coming up to the time of the 1798 Rebellion. The gallows position can still be pointed out at one of the windows on the third storey. The hanging spectacle was a public affair which drew large crowds.

Often conditions in the Jail were so severe especially in winter with cold walls, no glazing in the cell windows, disease and poor food that morality rates were high. At various stages throughout its history its various uses included a leprosy hospital (Lazeretto), a debtors prison, and latterly a mental asylum until the Ballinasloe Asylum opened circu 1840. Issac Weld tells us something about conditions when it was a mental institution; “There were females in solitary cells, with iron clasps around their bodies, and fastened with chains to the walls, sitting with straw heaped up around them to conceal their nakedness”.

The last Governor of the Old Jail, Michael Shera put funding towards building the Presbyterian Church which is located close by and is now the County Museum and Tourist Office. In 1808 Edward Jones was a Jailer and his descendent  John Jones, who had family connections with the Shera family retired from business in Castle Street in 1909 and commenced to live there calling it Tudor House. It was lived in by various families to the present time and now houses a number of commercial businesses and apartments and called Stone Court.

A very fine photograph was taken in 1903 by Robert French of the Lawrence firm, who specialised in the photography of postcards. It gives a very informative view of the appearance of the Jail, The Square with Fair Day in full swing, children drawing water from the pump and the part of the Square where the Post Office was erected in 1912. Formerly the Post Office appears to have been in Abbey Street close to the Courthouse.

When the Midland & Great Western Railway was extended to Roscommon in 1860 the trade of agriculture stock for which the County was famed and greatly increased. Large numbers were forwarded to Dublin and then shipped to England.

Further Reading Sources:
Volume 7 – 1998 Roscommon Historical & Archaeological Society Journal
  • Page 6: Excavations at Roscommon Jail: A Summary Account by Jim Higgins
Roscommon Association Yearbook 1983
  • Page 69: The Old Jail by P.M. Gannon
Roscommon Association Yearbook 1986
  • Page 54: Photo: Old Jail
  • Page 76: Jails, Old and New in Roscommon Town by Albert Siggins
Roscommon Association Yearbook 2001
  • Page 48: Roscommon Town Gaols by Kathleen Hegarty Thorne

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Old Jail Sketch

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