Mountjoy Prison

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Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison.jpg
Location Phibsboro, Dublin
Coordinates 53°21′42.14″N 6°16′2.95″W / 53.3617056°N 6.2674861°W / 53.3617056; -6.2674861
Status Operational
Security class Medium security
Capacity 630
Population 728 (as of 2010)
Opened 1850
Managed by Irish Prison Service
Governor Edward Whelan

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

Physical accommodation[edit]

Mountjoy prison is constructed along a radial design with four main wings (A to D) each of which have three landings which are connected to a central 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.[2]

Main prison[edit]

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. Additionally there are five cells which can accommodate four people each. None of the 367 cells in this block have in-cell sanitation, with the exception of the cells on C-Wing, which was refurbished in 2012 and is now used as housing for trustee and working prisoners. These cells contain metallic toilets and sinks.[2]

The prison was built with in-cell sanitation but this was removed in 1939 at the instigation of a civil servant who deemed that 'prisoners were using too much water'.[citation needed] Inmates have to slop out using chamber pots.

Medical unit[edit]

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][2]

The Base[edit]

The basement, or Base, is located under the Main Prison and runs under each of the wings. There is further accommodation in parts of the Base. B Base (now closed for refurbishment) contains six single cells and eight four-man cells. All of these cells have in-cell sanitation. The unit also contains a shower room, five special cells, and an exercise yard adjoining it. The newly opened C Base is used exclusively to house committal prisoners, until they are placed onto appropriate wings in the Main Prison. C Base also has a separate Controlled Behavioural Unit known as the CBU, or the Block, used for unruly prisoners or those on punishment. This includes 23-hour lock-up and no integration with other inmates.[3]

Separation unit[edit]

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.[2]


In 2009 the Inspector of Prisons calculated that the design capacity of Mountjoy Prison was for 489 prisoners. This calculation excluded cells for assessment, time out and cladding. These types of cells are not suitable for accommodation. Despite this design capacity of the prison the official capacity of the prison was then given as 573. Changes in capacity often relate, according to the inspector, to an increase in the provision of mattresses and beds rather than the addition of new cells to the system.[4] For July 2010, the Inspector's report estimated a 'bed capacity' of 630 and 728 for the number actually in custody.[5]

The Inspector-General of Prisons and Places of Detention has stated that prisoners in Mountjoy are existing in most inhumane, degrading and overcrowded conditions, and that many have to sleep on the floor in filthy conditions due to overcrowding. He recommended that it be closed and demolished. In 2006 the Inspector-General described the attitude of the then Progressive Democrat Minister for Justice Michael McDowell towards reform as "frightening and fascist".[6]

Prison population[edit]

It was estimated in 2009 that 50 per cent of committals in that year, or 2,000 prisoners, were committed due to defaulting on fines.[7]


Staff violence[edit]

Violence between prisoners[edit]

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.[8] This prompted the Minister of Justice to seek a limit of 520 inmates on the capacity of the prison.


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.

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.[9]

Mountjoy Campus[edit]

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

People associated with Mountjoy[edit]

A former governor was Charles Arthur Munro, brother of the Edwardian satirist Saki[10]

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 is to be constructed. The new facility will accommodate 1,200 prisoners. The site will include court facilities, video-conference links, medical and therapeutic facilities, but due to government cutbacks these plans have now been sidelined.[11]


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

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°21′42.3″N 6°16′2.8″W / 53.361750°N 6.267444°W / 53.361750; -6.267444