A terrifying Irish jail for over two centuries, Wicklow Gaol opened in 1702 as a place of imprisonment for Catholics repressed under the Penal Laws. Over 400 prisoners — old people, women, children, it didn't matter — could be locked up here for as petty a crime as stealing two shillings. And the barbaric keepers, along with the constant threat of disease, floggings, torture, and capital punishment made Wicklow Gaol a truly fearsome place. The jail finally closed down during the Irish Revolution in 1924, and today the old prison is one of Wicklow's most visited places.
On a visit, you’ll meet your first “inmate” in the foyer. He'll give you a few dark facts and tales about the prison, then, as you make your way past the hanging beam, you can go round at your own pace with an audio guide (and you could easily spend hours doing so), or you can join a tour with an inmate as a guide. Either way, you’ll learn the history of Ireland through the eyes of the prisoners. You’ll see the tortuous treadmill that prisoners were forced to turn for hours on end as punishment, learn that prisoners were only fed once every four days, and see the old dungeon as well.
On the second floor, you’ll see a model of convict ship HMS Hercules. Captained by the psychotic Luckyn Betts — it’s said that prisoners would truly rather be dead than spend months at sea under his tyrannical rule. On the top floor, you'll learn about life for the prisoners once they reached Australia.
On Kilmantin Hill in Wicklow, prison tours run every 10 minutes (outside from 1 to 2pm). Open from 10:30am-4:30pm, adult tickets to Wicklow Gaol cost €7.90. On the last Friday of every month, adults-only tours are available and include snacks, wine...and ghouls. To get to Wicklow from Dublin, you can take the 133 Bus Eireann or the commuter train heading to Rosslare Harbour.