In the Clink


Around about March I had to go to the jail here to liberate my new boyfriend, Spike. He plays the fiddle in his all-star metal band, The Screaming Opossums, and has sleeve tattoos on both of his arms. He’s really nice, and surprisingly huggy for a guy with that level of body piercings.

Unfortunately, I went to the wrong jail, so I think Spike may still sitting there, eating freeze-dried reconstituted prison food. I really should get onto that…

This is the view of the gaol you get first, when you’re still a little irritated about having to climb a rather impressive hill in order to get there. This is just the gatehouse – it’s castle-esque, and designed to be so. This jail was built to replace another one that had gotten woefully outdated, so the city decided to go all out; they hired Sir Thomas Deane as architect, and the rest is history.

Beautiful, right? This guy Deane certainly knew what he was about.

Changed your mind yet? Well, get a load of THIS:

This is our buddy Georgie; he’s seeing a therapist, and it’s really changed him, mellowed him down. He’s a great guy. (He can also smell fear.)

I solemnly swear that I will show you no more creepy dummies – though this museum was overflowing with them. They stand over you, watch your every move; some are prisoners, some guards, and some are the miscellaneous other personnel a prison would have required. So perhaps not a place to go at night unless you’re rather desperate…

Creepy fake people aside (and yes, they are hard to get out of your shots), this place is rather beautiful for an incarceration center:

This is actually the ‘newer’ part of the prison, added onto the original when the old section was getting a bit stuffy and overcrowded. It’s also referred to as the women’s prison, as this was where the women were placed after 1878 (for scale, the jail was opened in 1824 and closed in 1923). You might be able to see on the far end of the first photograph that there is a stage of the chamber. This was generally used only on Sundays for services and for other religious purposes – unfortunately, there was not much in the way of diversion for prisoners except for the labor they were forced to do.

That labor was different depending on the gender of the prisoner and on the time period; after a while, there was a distinction made between punitive labor and what was termed ‘industrial’ labor, which was made to be more productive than to punish. Industrial labor for men tended to focus on trades (if the prisoner in question knew any), such as shoemaking, tailoring, weaving, tin working, mat making. If a man didn’t have any skills (unlikely), he would likely be assigned “prison duties.” Industrial labor for women tended more towards sewing, needlework, carding, spinning, washing, and cleaning.

Punitive labor for men was pretty backbreaking stuff – such as stonebreaking (which in the Nazi concentration camps meant that you were doomed to an even lower life expectancy than the usual low number) and the ‘treadwheel,’ an enormous 40-foot long hamster wheel-type creation that was used to bring up water from the gaol’s well and to grind flour. It was initially used as a regular part of the prisoner’s day – groups of five were assigned about 20 minutes at a time – but then was phased out to replace solitary confinement. For women, punitive labor involved yet more cleaning – an easy break by comparison!

This is a pretty typical cell. The beds are wooden pallets topped with mattresses filled with straw or oakum, a kind of fiber; the pillows are pretty much more of the same. Now, some of you may have heard me rant about my freshman year roommate, but even I can’t imaging being cooped up with another person – someone likely to be grumpy (it is a prison, after all) and with questionable hygiene. I don’t know about you, but for me that takes the cake.

There was also the unhappy fact that for some time after 1840, the Cork City Gaol would have been a singularly silent place. It was believed that silence coupled with religion was the best cure for criminality, as it forbade the ‘exchange of innovative ideas’ among the throng and encouraged contemplation of one’s transgressions. This policy was so enthusiastically adopted that a typical uniform – even for guards – incorporated thick felt overshoes to muffle the sounds of footfalls on the floor. As you can imagine, on the whole this scheme had the opposite effect of what was intended: people went crazy. There were people that made noise so that some of the silence would be filled up – though they were unquestionably subsequently beaten to a righteous degree. Some went so far as to kill themselves; some were simply and brutally unhinged.

Fortunately, there was labor in between every meal (including breakfast), meals (rather heavy on bread, milk, and ‘Indian meal’), as well as something called ‘exercise,’ which involved trooping outside (five meters apart) and going for a silent, staid walk. How valuable birdsong must have been to the prisoners.

These two photos represent another period of the jail’s lifetime – as well as that of Ireland. The gaol was used to incarcerate revolutionaries of the Irish War of Independence during 1919-1921 (the successful one), so many of them that the cells were stuffed to capacity, with about five people in each cell. If you look back at the cell with the pallets, there really isn’t loads of room. That meant that disease was rampant and that conditions as a whole stank (literally).

A side effect of this was that the minute the Irish got independence, closing down the Cork City Gaol was on their hit list – the reason why operations were shut down in 1923. Another effect of the incarceration of rebels was the quantity of graffiti that made its way onto the walls. It’s very “give me liberty or give me death,” or perhaps, “eat my shorts, English dog.”

There were many famous revolutionaries that made their way into the gaol, including Countess Constance Markievicz, a spitfire if there ever was one. Now that I think of it, she makes it on my top five list of people to meet throughout history – up there with Teddy Roosevelt and Sappho.

This is where the guards would hang out; outside of the shot there is a cot, but that’s basically it.

So that’s all she wrote for the prison. However, there are perks to coming up to this neighborhood, especially in fine or variable weather (they’re practically the same thing in Ireland):

So what if Spike is still languishing away in another penitentiary somewhere and I neglected to post bail? He shouldn’t be there too long for bond fraud anyway, right? Right?

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