In October 2011, online database provider FindMyPast.ie launched the Irish Prison Registers collection. This newly digitised collection includes the entire record-set previously available only in unindexed hard copy at the National Archives of Ireland.
Its summary features:
With an average population of around 4million during the period this collection covers, few families will not have had some brush with the law. This means that most researchers should be able to find a connection somewhere within.
The Irish prison registers collection now online covers the full range of detention facilities available from 1790 to 1924. Registers have survived from bridewells, which were cell blocks of varying sizes attached to local police stations or courthouses, to the county or national prisons, and to the specialised 'drying out' Prisons for Inebriates. Which is not to say that the collection is complete. Of course not. This is Irish genealogy, after all.
The collection is made up of a total of 44 registers from 20 of the 26 counties in modern-day Ireland: Clare (1), Cork (15), Dublin (6), Galway (2), Kerry (1), Kildare (2), Kilkenny (1), Laois (2), Lietrim (1), Limerick (1), Longford (1), Louth (1), Mayo (1), Meath (1), Offaly (1), Sligo (1), Tipperary (2), Waterford (1), Wexford (2), Wicklow (1).
Some are relatively recent – the Dundalk register, for example, dates from 1917-1924 – while Dublin's Kilmainham register spans the greater period, having started in 1789 and ended in 1910. Most date from the 1840s to near the end of the 19th century.
All the names that appear in the Irish Prison registers (prisoners, relatives and victims) can be searched. Searches can also be carried out, with a surname, for a specific timeframe or prison.
"County" field refers to the geographic location of the prison, not
the home town or birthplace of the prisoner.
The information noted in the registers varied over time and according to the type of detention facility. Bridewells typically recording less information. The county courts generally recorded:
Stealing potatoes: John Lane, aged just 10 years, was found guilty of stealing potatoes. He was sentenced to ten days hard labour in August 1849. See section below for more about 1849.
Prostitution: 36-year-old Julia Tobin, aka Julia Ryan, charged with Importuning passers-by for prostitution in December 1870. This was her 14th arrest. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment or a fine of £2 1shilling. Nothing further is recorded.
Neglect of child and habitual drunkeness: Jane Allen, an illiterate 40-year-old born in Dungarvan, Waterford but living in Belfast, was convicted for a fifth time with neglecting her child and habitual drunkeness. She is recorded as just 4ft 10inches tall, with brown hair, grey eyes, a fresh complexion and a small scar on her left eyebrow. Her upper front teeth are also missing. She weighed 157lbs on arrival at Ennis Reformatory on 24 October 1907. After serving her two-year sentence she was released and returned to her husband, Daniel, at 62 Fleet Street, Belfast.
Stealing clothes: Mary Regan, aged 20, was found guilty of possession of stolen clothes at the Spring Assizes in 1826. She was sentenced to 7 years transportation and was sent to Cork Penetentiary to await her ship in September of that year.
Arson and treason: Daniel Santry, aged 19, was taken into custody
at Cork prison on 6 March 1867 charged with attacking and burning the police
barracks and open insurrection against HM The Queen. His home address is
recorded and so are some personal details height 5ft 7½, fresh complexion, grey eyes,
brown hair, and two vaccination
marks on his left arm. Surprisingly, given the crime, he was bailed after 14
days incarceration and ordered to appear at the Spring Assizes.
The Irish prison registers show that the level of incaration leapt by nearly 15% in 1849. Just over 100,000 people went through the prison system in that one year alone as those worst affected by the famine sought refuge within prison.
At least there was food and shelter in prison, no matter how hard the regime. Often the food was better than in the workhouse, so people deliberately set out to be arrested.
There are many, many cases of 'stealing clothes from Workhouse' or stealing dishes from Workhouse. These are topped only by the incidences of petty theft for stealing potatoes, apples or turnips. Some examples:
The top five offences recorded were:
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