Mountjoy Prison

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Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison.jpg
Location Phibsborough, Dublin
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Status Operational
Security class Medium security
Capacity 570
Population 550 (as of 2015)
Opened 1850
Managed by Irish Prison Service
Governor Brian Murphy

Mountjoy Prison (Irish: Príosún Mhuinseo), founded as Mountjoy Gaol and nicknamed The Joy, is a medium security prison located in Phibsborough in the centre of Dublin, Ireland. It has the largest prison population in Ireland.[1] The current prison governor is Brian Murphy.


Mountjoy Prison, seen from Devery's Lane.

Mountjoy was designed by the British military engineering officer, Captain Joshua Jebb, Royal Engineers and opened in 1850, based on the design of London's Pentonville Prison also designed by Jebb. Originally intended as the first stop for men sentenced to transportation, they would spend a period in separate confinement before being transferred to Spike Island and transported from there to Van Diemen's Land.

A total of 46 prisoners (including one woman, Annie Walsh) were executed within the walls of the prison, prior to the abolition of capital punishment. Executions were done by hanging, after which the bodies of the dead were taken down from the gallows and buried within the prison grounds in unmarked graves. The list of prisoners executed at Mountjoy Prison includes:

Annie Walsh from Limerick, who was found guilty of murdering her husband, was executed in Mountjoy prison on 5 August 1925. She remains the only woman ever executed by the Irish State which was founded in 1922.

After being convicted of murdering a Garda officer, Charlie Kerins, former Chief of Staff to the Anti-Treaty IRA, was hanged at Mountjoy Prison on 1 December 1944.

The last execution carried out in the Republic of Ireland, that of Michael Manning, took place in Mountjoy Prison on 20 April 1954.

Some Irish leaders involved with the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War were held there. On 14 May 1921, an IRA team led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton mounted an attempt to rescue Sean McEoin from the prison. They used a captured armoured car to gain access to Mountjoy, but were discovered and had to shoot their way out.

The Fenian poet, author of the popular song "Rising of the Moon", John Keegan 'Leo' Casey was imprisoned here during the 1860s; subsequently in the 20th century playwright and IRA activist Brendan Behan was also gaoled within.

On 31 October 1973, it was the scene of a spectacular escape by a hijacked helicopter by three Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners, including Seamus Twomey and J.B O'Hagan.[2]

Main Prison

Mountjoy Prison is constructed along a radial design with four main wings, A through D, each of which have three landings, as well as an underground basement landing. The wings are connected to a central circle, known simply as 'the circle'. When originally built in 1850 it had 500 cells each of which was designed for single capacity. Many parts of the original building have either been renovated or destroyed.[3] At the time of the 2009 inspection, there were 371 cells in the main unit of the prison. These are the original cells which were built in 1850 for single occupancy. Their size varies from 3.91m x 2.06m to 3.43m x 2.06m. The prison was built with in-cell sanitation but this was removed in 1939 when it was deemed that 'prisoners were using too much water'. However, all cells in the main jail have in-cell sanitation following refurbishment in the period 2010 to 2015. These cells contain a toilet, a sink, a television and a small kettle.[3]

Facilities in the prison include gymnasiums, computer classes, carpentry, masonry and a wide variety of school activities such as music, drama and cookery. Prisoners can undertake to complete academic exams in the school such as Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and even Open University. Additionally, there is an on-site kitchen and bakery where trusted inmates are given employment under supervision.

Medical Unit

The Medical Unit, otherwise referred to as the drug detoxification unit, is a three storied structure. It provides accommodation for sixty prisoners in forty-eight single person cells and three cells that can accommodate up to four people. All the cells in this unit have in-cell sanitation facilities. It is equipped with medical facilities, classrooms and kitchen facilities. The Inspector of Prisons reported in 2009 that this unit was bright and clean and did not suffer from overcrowding.[1][3]

Controlled Behavioural Unit

The Controlled Behavioural Unit, known as the CBU or the Block, is used for unruly prisoners or those on punishment and is located in the 'C' Base, underneath the C wing. This includes 24-hour lock-up, with the exception of one hour of open air exercise, and no integration with other inmates.[4]

Separation Unit

The Separation Unit has 35 cells. It also has kitchen facilities a shower block and a laundry. Following the unit's refurbishment in 1997, all cells now have in-cell sanitation.[3] The separation unit has been closed indefinitely following an inspection by the Inspector of Prisons.


In August 2006, prisoners who were normally separated from the rest of the population for safety were mixed together for a night with mentally ill inmate Stephen Egan. Prisoner Gary Douche was killed by Egan who was found not guilty of murder due to a lack of responsibility.[5] This prompted the Minister of Justice to seek a limit of 520 inmates on the capacity of the prison.

In October 2010, the prison was placed under lockdown after a night of violence and rioting involving more than 70 inmates. It started when a number of prisoners attacked three prison officers with pool cues and balls during recreation.[6] Reinforcements were brought in from around Dublin to quell the riot and a number of Alsatians from the riot unit were also deployed.

Mountjoy Campus

The Mountjoy Campus is home to three other separate penal facilities.

People associated with Mountjoy

A former governor was Charles Arthur Munro, brother of the Edwardian satirist Saki[7]

The schizophrenic French surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud was briefly detained in Mountjoy before his deportation from Ireland as "a destitute and undesirable alien".


A 60-hectare site has been acquired for €30 million at Thornton Hall, Fingal, where a replacement for Mountjoy was to be constructed. The new facility was intended to accommodate 1,400 prisoners. The site was planned to include court facilities, video-conference links, medical and therapeutic facilities,[8] but due to government cutbacks these plans have now been sidelined.[citation needed]


Carey, Tim : Mountjoy – The Story of a Prison :The Collins Press : 2000 : ISBN 1-898256-89-6

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 CPT (2011). Report to the Government of Ireland on the Visit to Ireland Carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment from the 25 January to the 5 February 2010 (PDF). Strasbourg. p. 18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Helicopter Prison Archived 17 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Inspector of Prisons (2009). Report on an Inspection of Mountjoy Prison (PDF). p. 8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Inspector of Prisons (2009). Report on an Inspection of Mountjoy Prison (PDF). p. 9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Witnesses identified in Douche inquiry, Irish Times, 23 April 2009
  7. Introduction p24 of The Unbearable Saki by Sandie Byrne, Oxford University Press, 2007
  8. "Annual Report 2006" (PDF). National Development Finance Agency. 28 June 2007. p. 10. Retrieved 17 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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