Armagh Gaol

Armagh Gaol was originally built around 1780 and it remained unchanged for many years while a turbulent history unfolded outside its doors. Through much of the 1800s, prison inspectors repeatedly found the gaol to be lacking space and adequate amenities for the prison population. From 1920 onwards, Armagh was primarily a women’s prison. During the conflict, it housed a growing number of female internees and political prisoners, and a small number of male internees and remand prisoners. It closed in 1986.

For more on the history of Armagh Gaol, see our specially-commissioned essay by Sean Barden, Curator of Armagh County Museum.

B-Wing Yard

The prisoners’ yard was split into two: A-Wing yard and B-Wing yard. It was used for exercise by prisoners. Drilling and marching by some republican prisoners also took place here (in breach of the rules). The yard was occupied by a number of temporary buildings. For example, the sewing room was actually a portacabin in A-Wing yard. And the education complex was located in B-Wing yard, in a portacabin.

Clean area / ‘Romper room’

Where visitors waited for a prisoner to be brought to the visiting area.

B-Wing (B1)

“Three wings and all women, you can imagine the noise” Prisoner

B-Wing was composed of three floors (B1, B2 and B3), with the dungeons below. B3 was used for remand prisoners, with sentenced prisoners on the lower floors. B-Wing was used for protesting prisoners (i.e. prisoners who wouldn’t do prison work and thus lost privileges and were locked up more than conforming prisoners).

C-Wing

C-Wing was built in 1975 in the old breaker’s yard to alleviate prison overcrowding. C-Wing was initially used for special category prisoners. After they were phased out (from 1976), CWing was predominantly used to accommodate female young offenders. C-Wing was demolished prior to PMA filming.

A double cell in the female young offenders centre in C-Wing. Courtesy of PRONI. Ref. INF_7_A_8_004_A

'Circle'

“we would have stood here, and we would have been called to attention and, you know, inspected, and then detailed as to where we were going to work” Prison officer

“When Armagh prison was at its height, this was a hub, this was a centre of activity” Prisoner

The central point of the gaol, where prison officers reported for duties.

A-Wing Yard

The prisoners’ yard was split into two: A-Wing yard and B-Wing yard. It was used for exercise by prisoners. Drilling and marching by some republican prisoners also took place here (in breach of the rules). The yard was occupied by a number of temporary buildings. For example, the sewing room was actually a portacabin in A-Wing yard. And the education complex was located in B-Wing yard, in a portacabin.

Education complex

“We did English and Irish, cookery, the typing – typing at that time -, crafts, these were all done up here, in these, there were three classrooms” Prison officer

“I just would have known the girls by first name and I wouldn’t have gone into any, I didn’t ask them any questions about their circumstances”  Educator

Located in B-Wing yard, in a portacabin. Two classrooms facilitated classes in Irish, English, politics, and history, alongside cookery, typing, handicrafts and needlework. The classrooms could be accessed by corridors off both A-Wing and B-Wing, near the ‘circle’.

Gym

Located in B-Wing yard, in a portacabin. Classes such as circuit training took place here. A library was located beside the gym.

Reception Yard

Prisoners arrived to the gaol by van and entered the reception yard.

Chapel

“We used to show the films in here on a Sunday afternoon, you know, the old projector would have been down here”  Prison officer

“There was three services here. There was Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland. So we put our names down for all three so we could get out here instead of being locked in our cells. Everybody thought we were converted but we weren’t.” Prisoner

“Basically what people went to mass for was because it meant the sentenced prisoners and the remand prisoners could mix and that’s when you were able to talk and comms got passed back and forth” Prisoner

The chapel was multi-denominational and held a variety of services. The chapel was located directly above the ‘circle’, at the intersection of A and B-Wings, with doors onto both wings.  Services in the chapel allowed sentenced and remand prisoners from A and B-Wings to meet, and offered potential for items to be passed between prisoners. Films were also shown in the chapel via a projector on Sunday afternoons.

Hospital

Located above the circle, beside the chapel. (It was inaccessible during PMA filming.) It replaced an earlier hospital building that was located in the yard.

Visiting Area

“You’d the screws sitting nearly on top of you”  Prisoner

“The visits weren’t individual, they were open plan, there was a table, a couple of chairs for your visitors and a chair for you.” Prisoner

“My father, every time he came up to see me in prison he used to cry” Prisoner

“You didn’t have any privacy, you were sitting with your visitors and the next table was, could be a republican with his visitors” Prisoner

“Visits were always very distressful for prisoners”  Prisoner

Visiting took place in portacabins in a yard within the gaol complex. Visits lasted half an hour, and three adults and two children were permitted at each visit.

A-Wing (A2)

“You knew the girls in this wing had a lot harder time than the girls in B wing” Prisoner

A-Wing was composed of two floors (A1 and A2), with the laundry below. A1 was used for ODCs (ordinary decent criminals), while the upper floor (A2) was used for political and remand prisoners. The no wash protest (1980-81) took place in A-Wing. For matters of practicality, prisoners on the no wash protest were moved to the ground floor of the wing (A1).

“Everybody up here was political.”  Prisoner

 “If you can imagine this place as really buzzing with people, because at that stage the place was becoming really overcrowded, there was that many girls coming in. but if you can imagine your washing, your towels and all, they would have hung over to get them dried”  Prisoner

Annex

Male prisoners near the end of their sentences at Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast were moved here. The annex was split into dormitories.

Guard Room

Located on each wing, the guard room was where officers were stationed during ‘night guard’.

Association room

Also known as the double cell, the common room and ‘the soc’. It was used for socialising and watching tv.

Laundry

“The prison officers got their shirts washed down here” Prisoner

Located in the basement of A-Wing. A small number of prisoners worked in the laundry which was used to launder prison sheets and towels. (There was also a laundry room on each floor for prisoners to wash their own clothes.)

Kitchen

“Your cornflakes and your porridge and all came out of here” Prison officer

Located below the ‘circle’. A small number of prisoners worked in the main kitchen. Prisoners’ meals were prepared in the main kitchen and brought up to each wing where there was a hot plate from which prisoners were served. Prisoners then ate in their cells. (Prisoners could also access a kitchen on each floor to fill flasks and prepare meals from any food parcels received.)

Dungeons

Located below B-Wing. They were not used during ‘the troubles’.

Staff quarters

Located in the entrance block which faces Armagh’s ‘Mall’. Included the officers’ mess where prison officers ate. Functions could also be held here.

B-Wing (B2)

B-Wing was composed of three floors (B1, B2 and B3), with the dungeons below. B3 was used for remand prisoners, with sentenced prisoners on the lower floors. B-Wing was used for protesting prisoners (i.e. prisoners who wouldn’t do prison work and thus lost privileges and were locked up more than conforming prisoners).

“This here would have been full when I came here in 1978, full to bursting, yes, in fact they would have been doubled up, yes, prisoners would have been doubled up in their cells”  Prison officer

 “It was just a buzz, a hive of activity”  Prison officer

“the first night you have to actually fight against the claustrophobia”  Prisoner

B-Wing (B3)

B-Wing was composed of three floors (B1, B2 and B3), with the dungeons below. B3 was used for remand prisoners, with sentenced prisoners on the lower floors. B-Wing was used for protesting prisoners (i.e. prisoners who wouldn’t do prison work and thus lost privileges and were locked up more than conforming prisoners).

“You could have stood here and talked down to our sentenced girls”  Prisoner

A-Wing (A1)

“You knew the girls in this wing had a lot harder time than the girls in B wing” Prisoner

A-Wing was composed of two floors (A1 and A2), with the laundry below. A1 was used for ODCs (ordinary decent criminals), while the upper floor (A2) was used for political and remand prisoners. The no wash protest (1980-81) took place in A-Wing. For matters of practicality, prisoners on the no wash protest were moved to the ground floor of the wing (A1).

“At one stage there was a big big table here. And one of the girls, we were all newly fangled with this, she got like a wee record player in. And every so often she would have come out – it ran by batteries – and she would have put it out. And remember we would have had a wee dance here.” Prisoner

*Note ‘B1’ labels on the walls were inaccurately added by a film crew in 2000s