A Glimpse at Grangegorman Female Depot

In October, 2011, Val, Bill and Lynette travelled around the globe as detectives seeking clues to give us a better picture of where the people who became our forebears came from.  First, there was a whistlestop tour of Fredericton in Canada where William Johnston (WJ) deserted the British army.  Then there was Crosscanonby in Cumbria to the church where WJ was baptised.  Crossing the Irish Sea we discovered Ballymena, the home of Irish-Scottish McClintocks and Fivemiletown where James Carey stole a cow and then Roscommon on the trail of Ann Carey who stole to be with her husband in Tasmania.

We found little in Roscommon to connect with Ann Carey, but we knew that she spent time in the Grangegorman Female Depot in Dublin and that the buildings were still in existence. We were fortunate enough to have a copy of her record page at the prison thanks to some good investigation by Thelma McKay in Hobart.

From Rosscomon to Dublin

So instead of having our customary drink and toast in Roscommon, we made straight for Dublin because we needed to visit Ireland oldest pub and then find Grangegorman Female Depot before darkness overtook us. With a flight already booked, we had to fly back to London the next day and we hadn’t seen enough of Ballymena to get a feel of where the McClintocks came from.

Ann Carey spent 3 months in that dreary prison in 1847, after being convicted of larceny in Omagh in County Tyrone. She was awaiting the SV Waverley, which was to transport her to Van Diemen’s Land on its third voyage to Hobart Town.

Our first stop in Dublin was the Brazen Head which claims to Ireland oldest and pub and that was the appropriate place to drink the health of our little Irish grandmother who was all of 4 foot 11 inches, feisty and quite prepared to tell you to ‘feck off’. In fact, she was charged with doing just that in Hobart Town on 20th January, 1852.   That information comes from her Convict Conduct Record.  Some of the family stories are even more interesting.   One is that she smoked a pipe stoked with the tobacco from cigarette butts off railway workers.  That’s right – my fifth great grandmother smoked a pipe! But as far as I am aware, she did not wear army boots.

The Brazen Head - Ireland Oldest Pub

The Brazen Head was the favourite drinking place for novelist James Joyce and I still remember his depressing descriptions of grey Dublin days. A year before this visit, our son  Andrew and wife Megan had taken us to this pub for the Sunday Singing Session. It was grand!! We listened and joined in with singing sad ballads about life and trouble with a room crowded with morbid melody.  A fitting place to toast Ann Carey. We did so with Guinness, because we knew that it is good for your health and enhances your intelligence.  The ads told us so.

Lack of preparation plagued us in the execution of the quest to find Grangegorman Female Depot. Doesn’t even sound like a prison does it? Well, nobody knew anything about it because it wasn’t a prison any longer. Fortunately, Lynette had brought backup of our home server and I had copied an article on the prison. We pulled up the copy on my PC and found that it was in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. What did our Irish GPS think about that?

Well that was quite OK for the GPS, we got to Stoneybatter just fine but right on peak hour traffic. But that just wasn’t close to anything that looked for a former prison. If only I had looked at the article more closely, as it had one piece of vital information we needed to find our prison. We didn’t have the name of the street, did we? A suburb name just wasn’t near enough.

Grangegorman Entrance in 1996

We drove up some torturous narrow little streets using the random drive approach and asked some construction workers.  Their directions got us to the current men’s prison. Nope – that’s not it. So we went into a road that led to bus depot with a security gate. An inquiry there got us directions to the Grangegorman Hospital. All this at peak hour!!

While I was summoning up the courage to break back into the traffic to go to the Grangegorman Hospital which was nearly but not quite there, I thought I would have one more look at the internet article item that I had copied. Great day in the morning!  It had the street name further down in the article. Rathdowney Road. That was what we needed. We tapped this into our trusty little GPS and off we went.

After 3 wrong turns we were in the right street. Now all we had to do was drive the street and hope that the prison was going to a big complex that we just couldn’t miss. Well it almost was. We took pictures of a depressing front entrance and didn’t know we had found IT for sure until we arrived back in Oz and found an article on the prison.

Entrance to Grangegorman in 2011

Just like some depressing description out of James Joyce before imbibing at the Brazen Head, it was grey, it was dreary and my heart ached for poor Ann having to endure this sad place with harsh grey stone walls. She so deserved the payoff of eventually finding true love for enduring this place.

I like to think she did find true love with WJ, but that wasn’t until 1854 after a couple of false starts. She had to tell a few to ‘feck off’ and then one, John Hambrook, saw her off and she was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for her trouble and a pregnant with a little girl by the name of Mary Ann Carey.

But for all that, there was a happy ending with WJ and some absolutely grand descendants. She possibly reached a point in her life of thanking Judge Torrens for giving her the transportation sentence that she wanted on the 8th March 1847 in the County Tyrone Quarter Sessions.

The best perspective we could get was the rear of Grangegorman Female Depot from Fitzgerald St. It was high multistorey walls with missing windows that had incarceration written all over it.

Derelict remains of Grangegorman Womans Prison

Traversing the cavernous doors at the front entrance on Rathdowny Rd would make you feel like you had passed out of life into darkness. The steel doors present in a 1969 photo where not there in 2011. But it still looked daunting.

The stone walls of the outer the perimeter from Rathdowny Road looks like they hide another world.

It was easier for Ann than the long term residents.  She was there for 3 months to give her some fundamental training before going to Van Diemen’s Land. The Convict Department in Tasmania were trying to get better outcomes from female convicts who were not hired by settlers because they had no skills. She was actually fortunate to be here, as dreary as it looked.

We managed to see as much as we could of a former prison from the outside and then headed north for the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim for our last night in Ireland.

11 Responses to A Glimpse at Grangegorman Female Depot

  • Jane Duckworth says:

    I found this to be a v interesting diary entry. I was wondering how Bill got the prison records for Ann Carey? When I look at the Archives of Ireland website it seems u have to pay an Irish researcher to manually search the records. Bill says his friend Thelma investigated and found the records. Did she pay someone as I can’t see that they are on-line. Here’s hoping someone reads this. Thanks. Jane

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    • The Grangegorman prison registers can be searched on the website find my past.com.uk but you will have to pay

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      • bill says:

        Thanks Rosanne. When I look at the cost of travel it is absolutely worthwhile paying for some intelligence before you visit. I will take up your tip and have a look.

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  • michele says:

    NO NEED TO PAY A RESEACHER!!! This information is now at family search dot org. Look under UK and Ireland. Ireland has 5 indexes and the most recent is the prison registry. After you find the record descriptions, book an appointment at a Mormon Church (LDS) Family Search Centre and they have the password to access the images. Only this past week I accessed a number of records that are now saved on a jump drive. Aside from the expected info (ie sentence + crime) these registers give phyiscal desriptions of your ancestors. If you do not have photos, these are the only descriptions you will ever have of them 😀 Re the family search centres, you can search for the one located closest to you. There is even one in my city that is in a reference library. In anycase, the person (volunteer) that helped me was very knowledgable…I say this because as I was viewing (this was the first time she had viewed these records as they only came on line) she was spotting things on the record that was not obvious to me…she was also very good with interpreting the handwriting 🙂

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  • michele says:

    Great article!! I plan to visit Dublin again in March 2013. My 2nd Great Grandmother spent two months in Grangegorman for Larceny. I obtained the record image earlier this week (along with a plethora of other prison records for other ancestors!) I take it there is no tour at that facility as there is in Kilmainham. Were you able to get inside??Regards

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    • bill says:

      Hi Michelle
      I would have loved to have gone inside but it was very much deserted and locked up. If I go back to Ireland, I will make inquiries about visiting. Another post in response to this blog indicates that you can get a lot more information, which I would love to do.
      Thanks Bill

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  • Jen B says:

    Many thanks for your article. I am travelling to Ireland next week to follow the steps of my GGG grandmother Ellen McDarby who stayed at Grangegorman prior to being sent on the Waverley (2) to Van Diemans Land – where I live!

    I am sure our ancestors shared many experiences and some times their ”bawdiness” just got them through.


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    • Rowan M says:

      Hi Jen! How was your trip to Ireland, following in the footsteps of Ellen?

      Ellen McDarby is also my GGG Grandmother and I plan to also follow Ellen’s journey in Ireland during the next year or two. Would love to hear what you know about this amazing lady!

      (I’m also in Tasmania!)

      Kind regards,


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  • Paul Horan says:

    Hi. You may be interested to know that the Grangegorman site is about to undergo a major transformation. After 200 years as a prison and hospital this remarkable site in the middle the city is being redeveloped as the new campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology and its 20,000 students. Initial work on the preservation of historic protected structures on the site begins in Autumn 2013. For more see http://www.dit.ie/about/grangegorman

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  • Robert Flood says:

    For anyone interested in Grangegorman just to let you know if us now being converted into a campus for Dublin institute of technology (www.dit.ie). Amazing project…

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  • Rosanne Vagnoni says:

    Thanks for your post Paul. The link was interesting and it was good to see the short 2 min video that tells how the area is being developed. From the video I was surprised at the size of the site 70 acres right in the centre of Dublin, with gardens and various buildings. Good to see that they are preserving the historic buildings at Grangegorman.

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