Through the keyhole: uncovering prison stories through the archives

Date published: 30 July 2018

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has developed an exhibition of historical prison records, charting the development of prisons in Northern Ireland across almost three centuries.

PRONI inside

The exhibition will be hosted at a number of locations, starting with the NI Prison Service at Maghaberry on 26 July, then at Féile an Phobail’s 30 anniversary at St Marys University College, Falls Road, Belfast on 2 August, followed by local Libraries.  

Beginning with the earliest 17th Century ‘Bridewells’, through to the late 20th Century ‘H Block’ prison at Maze, the exhibition touches on a wide range of important issues, from the experience of women in prison, the use of capital sentences, internment and political prisoners in the 20th Century, living conditions and rehabilitation.

The exhibition covers some of the most prominent sites such as Armagh Gaol, Crumlin Road Gaol and the Maze / Long Kesh prison, but also some less well known locations including Omagh Gaol, Carrickfergus Gaol and Enniskillen Gaol, which dates back as far as the early 17th century.

Michael Willis, Director of PRONI, said: “I am pleased to present this exhibition of historical prison records from the archive at PRONI. The diverse array of documents which PRONI holds encapsulates the experiences not only of the men and women who were imprisoned in those places throughout our history, but also reflects the experiences of the prison staff who served there.

"Many of the records are being published for the first time and as the exhibition travels across a range of sites it provides an opportunity for visitors to engage with a wide range of archives and the stories they reveal.”

Speaking at the launch of the exhibition in Maghaberry Prison, Austin Treacy, Director of Prisons with the Northern Ireland Prison Service, said:  “I am delighted that we have been able to host the launch of the PRONI exhibition at Maghaberry Prison.

"This is a unique and rare insight into the prison system in Northern Ireland and how it has evolved down through the years. I have no doubt it will create a cultural awareness and understanding of prison life from a bygone era and I would encourage the general public to visit the exhibition at the various locations as it tours Northern Ireland.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Public Record Office of NI (PRONI) is a division of the Department for Communities and is located at 2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast. For details on opening hours, see nidirect or call 028 9053 4800.
  2. For further information on the exhibition of historical prison records is available on youtube  
  3. Media enquiries to DfC Press Office on 028 9082 3512 or email: Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned.
  4. Follow the Department on Twitter 

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