2003:1598 - ROSCOMMON: Former Gaol, Roscommon

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Roscommon Site name: ROSCOMMON: Former Gaol

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E1245

Author: Robert O'Hara, Archaeological Consultancy Services Ltd.

Site type: Prison/jail

Period/Dating: Modern (AD 1750-AD 2000)

ITM: E 587491m, N 764214m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.627591, -8.189096

Roscommon County Council are considering developing the site of the former gaol into new civic offices. The site currently incorporates their offices, stores and supply yard with car-parking facilities. The gaol buildings were completely demolished in 1948, with only small portions of the original perimeter wall surviving. The site was extensively redeveloped in the 1960s, with the result that only a small area of the original gaol was available for investigation.

Following an assessment at the site by Donald Murphy (Excavations 2002, No. 1623, 02E1555), an excavation was carried out. Three undisturbed areas were investigated by means of open-plan excavation in four separate cuttings. The overburden deposits consisted of tarmacadam over compact building rubble. The deposits were up to 0.5m thick and were mechanically excavated.

County Roscommon Grand Jury commissioned a new gaol in 1814 and a sum of £22,252 was allocated for its construction to the west of Roscommon in Ardnanagh townland. It was to replace an older gaol built c. 1736 to a design by Richard Cassells and was recently investigated by Jim Higgins. In the 1832 Statistical Survey of County Roscommon, Issac Weld describes the gaol as 'being built on a semicircular plan, consisting of eight divisions, with appropriate yards and workrooms, a separate hospital and chapel and ninety-one sleeping cells. There was a matron and a schoolmaster, and the greatest attention was paid to the interior economy of the jail . . . The want of employment for the prisoners was the most serious evil, on which subject, the Inspector had suggested the breaking of stones for yards and highways. A treadmill has been erected.' The design was by Sir Richard Morrison (1767–1849), with construction undertaken by Thomas Colbourne and Richard Richards, architects and builders. The prison was closed in 1886 and partially reopened in 1887 as an RIC barracks, in which role it remained until 1921, when it was abandoned. An Garda Síochana took over the site in 1925 and used the ancillary buildings and part of the main cellblock until 1948.

In all of the cuttings, a number of common elements were recorded. These included the front and rear walls of the main cellblock. These survived as stepped foundations of various depths and up to 1m in width. Both structures were heavily mortared. They had an overall polygonal shape and were c. 5m apart. The innermost wall had a number of entrances through it. Certain rooms were identifiable within the main building; these were originally individual cells but had undergone extensive restructuring in the late 1880s to facilitate the change from gaol to barracks. The surviving floor levels were either stone flags (limestone and sandstone) or clay and mortar surfaces. Very few finds were recovered, as most reusable material was removed prior to demolition. Some prison bars were noted within the backfilled deposits of the main cellblock, as well as door fixings, metal buttons and lapel insignias, a number of bullet casings and two copper-alloy RIC badges dating to the late 19th or early 20th century. A large refuse pit was excavated in one of the airing yards that contained a dump of ceramic and glass from the early 20th century.

Unit 21, Boyne Business Park, Greenhills, Drogheda, Co. Louth.