To Visit Prisoners

Behind the scene ...

Following the passing of the Vagrancy Act of 1824 in Ireland, potentially many more people could be imprisoned, even if the intention of the Act were otherwise. Lawlor (2012, pp. 198-199), in her study of crime and imprisonment in nineteenth century Ireland, argues that the Act “was one of the more important statutes in the nineteenth century. Its purpose was to enforce ideals of independence, work and family responsibility ... an effective control mechanism which could be used against anyone not in full-time, respectable employment. For much of the period [1824 – 1890s] the main classes of crime covered by the Act were begging, being a lewd or disorderly prostitute, sleeping in the open and having no visible means of subsistence.” Paupers were in a most vulnerable situation under this law. The plight of the mentally ill who ended up in prison was also little understood.

Some support for prisoners was provided by designated prison Chaplains and other external groups. Lawlor (2012, pp. 32-33) notes that “Chaplains had a special role within the Irish Penal system. Under the Prisons Act of 1826 there were three chaplains in charge of religious instruction in the prisons, Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic and dissenting religion (Presbyterian). Each chaplain was expected to visit frequently the prison under his care (twice weekly) and on Sundays. Their role was to visit prisoners of their respective religions and to instruct them. They also held a general supervisory role in the prison ... The other outsiders with a role in the prison were philanthropic and religious middle class women.” The Sisters of Mercy were among these women.


Lawlor, R. S. (2012) Crime in nineteenth century Ireland: Grangegorman female penitentiary and Richmond male penitentiary, with reference to juveniles and women National University of Ireland, Maynooth, M Litt. Thesis.