|Inside a cell in Kilmainham Gaol.|
A photograph I shot in the bright light of mid-day.
Sometimes when conducting research for my own family history, I come across individuals with whom I am not connected, but who bear exactly the same name as an ancestor. Often, I find myself drawn to find out more about them, despite the lack of a familial connection. Such was the case when I was looking at the Kilmainham Gaol Registers. Within the index to the register for 1872, I found a record for a little girl named Margaret Toole. This particular Margaret Toole bears the same name as my paternal great-grandmother, and was born in County Dublin in 1861, just a year after my great-grandmother Margaret Toole was born in County Mayo.
When I came across her name, I was struck by the fact that the lives of these two Margaret Tooles were probably very different, and I just had to find out more about the Margaret Toole listed in the index to the register.
The information about Margaret Toole is recorded in the "Kilmainham Registry of Female Juveniles At and Under Sixteen Years". The title alone might make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Given 21st century ideas about dealing with juvenile delinquency, it is difficult to imagine that children at and under the age of 16 years would have been incarcerated in Kilmainham. Unfortunately, given 19th century ideas about crime and punishment, internment at Kilmainham of young children was not as unusual as we might hope.
There are twenty-four Kilmainham Gaol registers held at the National Archives Ireland, offering details of internments from the late 18th century (1796), when the prison opened, to February 1910 when the prison was closed for the first time. Within those registers is included the history of the imprisonment of children at Kilmainham. Up until 1859, children were interned in Kilmainham to serve sentences which could range from days to months, and included such punishments as "seven days imprisonment and twenty lashes for stealing a loaf of bread". In 1859, Reform Schools were opened in Ireland, so in addition to their imprisonment in Kilmainham, children would also receive years long sentences in Reform School. In 1868, a ten year old child named Patrick Duff served two weeks in Kilmainham, and then five years in Reform School, for stealing two leather straps.
Although some female prisoners had their babies with them while their served out their sentences, the youngest child ever convicted and imprisoned in Kilmainham was five year old Catherine Lyons. In 1855 Catherine and her parents, Alan and Anne, were sentenced to seven days in Kilmainham for riding a train without tickets.
The presumed links between crime, poverty, parentage and moral degradation, which mark the 19th century, are very clear from the column headings of the register entries. Under the following headings, which are recorded here exactly as they appear in the register, the registrant adds details about the prisoner:
"If he has been in Workhouse"
"If parents or either of them in Workhouse"
"If parents or either of them have been in gaol"
"Abandoned by parents"
"Absconded from parents"
The entry in the gaol register for Margaret Toole offers a wealth of information. It tells us that Margaret, aged 11 years, is a stepchild without a father. Margaret lived with her mother and stepfather in Ballsbridge, County Dublin. On 22 July 1872, Margaret was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol for a period of 14 days after she was charged with, and convicted of, "Larceny of Money", specifically the theft of £3/-6. Further, the record states that she is Roman Catholic and illiterate. Also, in the index to the register it is noted that this is her first time in prison.
Having been in Kilmainham Gaol on several occasions, both as a researcher and as a tourist, I can tell you that the oldest section of the gaol is a dark, damp and forbidding place. In 1881, one of my relatives, Andrew J. Kettle, secretary of the Irish Land League, was incarcerated in Kilmainham for a period of just over six months, having been convicted of "inciting persons unlawfully to assemble". In his memoirs he noted that the dampness of the place never left him. His son Laurence believed it had contributed to the decline of his father's health. I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for an 11 year child to spend 14 days incarcerated here in 1872. Given that Margaret Toole was a stepchild, I wonder if she did in fact steal the £3/-6, or if the accusation which led to her subsequent incarceration was a punishment meted out by her mother and stepfather over some other perceived infraction.
|Main Entrance of Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin|
O'Sullivan, Niamh. Every Dark Hour: A History of Kilmainham Jail, Liberties Press, Dublin, 2007.
Some of the Kilmainham Gaol Registers are available for online research through Find My Past Ireland at www.findmypast.ie. Searching is free, but subscription is required to view documents.
Click on photographs to view larger version.
(Originally posted 4 January 2011).