Learn how prisoners at Wicklow Gaol received basic education and who provided it.

Inmates in Wicklow Gaol held little or no formal education. This reflected society outside the prison walls, where the large majority of poorer Irish people were illiterate.

However, reformers of the era saw prison as a reforming institution. During the 2nd half of the 19th century, changes were made to improve conditions for inmates. These changes included basic education classes for both male and female prisoners.

Three models of children in a classroom at Wicklow Gaol

Three models of children in a classroom at Wicklow Gaol.

What type of education was provided?

Prison education at Wicklow Gaol was based around the teaching of the ‘three Rs’: Reading; Writing; Arithmetic.

In 1865, an Inspector General of prisons visited the Gaol and delivered the following report:

  • 165 male prisoners and 60 female prisoners attended school;
  • An average of 24.5 males and 5.8 females attended each day;
  • School was held 300 days a year, for two hours per day;
  • School hours were from 1 o’clock to 3 o’clock for male inmates;
  • Females were taught between 12.30pm and 2.30pm.

There were no training rooms at the prison. The males were instructed by the turnkeys in the chapel, which was partitioned to avoid contact amongst prisoners; and the females by the Assistant Matron in an unpartitioned dayroom.

The Inspector General’s report

The Inspector General noted that in 1865:

“The Board had placed a gratuity to be given on the certificate of the Chaplains and of the Governor, as to assiduity and efficiency on the part of teachers”.

He also found:

“Praiseworthy cases of proficiency, especially in writing, among the males; but among the females, a large proportion of whom consists of prostitutes, little is effected”.

It was also noted that the Protestant Chaplain visited the schools from time to time.

Mary Morris the Matron

Mary Morris, the Gaol Matron, was responsible for education at Wicklow Gaol during the second half of the 19th century.

Mary Morris the Matron