Portlaoise Prison

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Portlaoise Prison
Location Portlaoise, County Laois
Status Operational
Security class Maximum Security
Capacity 399
Population 119 (as of 2009)
Opened 1830
Managed by Irish Prison Service
Governor Ethel Gavin

Portlaoise Prison (Irish: Príosún Phort Laoise) is a maximum security prison in Portlaoise, County Laois, Ireland. Until 1929 it was called the Maryborough Gaol. It should not be confused with the Midlands Prison, which is a newer, medium security prison directly beside it.

The prison was built in the 1830s, making it one of the oldest still operating today in the Irish prison system. It is the prison in which people convicted of membership of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other illegal paramilitary and designated terrorist organisations are usually detained.

A number of IRA and dissident republican prisoners are housed in "E Block". Anyone charged under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act must be sent to the prison because of its unique security measures.[1]

Soldiers from the Irish Army patrol Portlaoise Prison on a permanent basis.


A large number of well-armed soldiers guard the prison 24 hours a day, making it one of the most secure prisons in Europe.

The security features include a detachment consisting of approx platoon strength, armed with rifles and anti-aircraft machine guns, who patrol the prison complex. An air exclusion zone operates over the entire complex. The perimeter consists of high walls, cameras, sensors and acres of tank traps (Czech hedgehog).

The prison has a capacity for 399 prisoners, but because of the security sensitive nature of its inmates, it operates below this capacity and its daily average number of resident inmates was only 119 in 2009.[2]

There have been various high-profile attempts to spring prisoners from inside the walls.

In 1902, the infamous criminal James Lynchehaun, who was in prison for the attempted murder of Agnes McDonnell, escaped unaided over the walls and made his way to America. The method of escape is well documented in the book, The Playboy and the Yellow Lady and made headlines worldwide. [3]

In 1974, nineteen Republican prisoners escaped in one daylight escape.[4]

On Friday the 29 December 1974 Provisional IRA prisoners held several prison officers hostage and caused considerable destruction to their wing in a protest for better living conditions inside the jail. Irish Army soldiers were used to regain control & the hostages were freed all of them unharmed. [5]

In 1975, during an attempted escape, Tom Smith of the IRA's Dublin Brigade was shot dead by the Irish Defence Forces. The prisoners had blasted their way through a door in the recreation area into the prison yard. As the prisoners entered the yard, Irish soldiers opened fire on the inmates, shooting Smith in the head. [6]

In November 1985, an IRA mass breakout failed when a bomb, which had been assembled within the prison itself, failed to detonate at the prison gates.[7]


During the 1970s and 1980s the prison was noted for its harsh treatment meted out towards prisoners. In 1977 a number of prisoners went on hunger strike demanding a public enquiry into conditions in the prison.

In 1984 the Assistant General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Tom Hoare strongly criticized conditions within the prison stating that staff were forced by senior management in the prison to use excessive force against prisoners. He also criticized the then Governor of Portlaoise Prison, William Reilly, and the Minister of Justice Michael Noonan stating "I accuse the minister of negligence in this area. I accuse the management of Portlaoise Prison of being indifferent to complaints. I would hate to be a prisoner making a complaint".[8] At the Prison Officers Association 1984 conference a delegate from Portlaoise Prison, Larry O'Neill, told the conference: "If Hitler wanted generals today he would find plenty of them in Portlaoise. After the war the Nazis said many of them were doing their duty and that is what the management in Portlaoise are saying today".[9]

Conditions within the prison improved after the death of Governor Reilly and the appointment of John Lonergan as Governor of the prison.[citation needed] In May 2007, an inmate named John Daly, who was serving 9 years for armed robbery, called the RTÉ radio show Liveline from inside the prison.[10] He called in to defend himself against Sunday World crime journalist Paul Williams who was speaking on the radio show at the time. Daly was on air for a few minutes before prison guards took the phone from him and ended the conversation.[citation needed]

This phone call resulted in a major clampdown in all Irish prisons and over 1,300 pieces of contraband being confiscated. Items confiscated in the cell-by-cell searches included numerous mobile phones, plasma televisions and even a budgie which was smuggled into the prison by a visitor who hid the bird internally in her vagina.[11]

John Daly received many death threats from fellow inmates after calling the show and as a result was transferred to other prisons twice before his release in October 2007. A few weeks after his release, he was murdered in Finglas after a night out.[12]

Notable inmates[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°02′17″N 7°17′13″W / 53.038°N 7.287°W / 53.038; -7.287