Roscommon Jail, Micro Mall, and Innovative Hangwoman Betty.

Jail in 1950's

Jail as Shopping Centre

I’m featuring historic Roscommon Jail on the Blog. Once Justice Central in Roscommon, this grand building had 32 cells for prisoners. Awaiting punishment by flogging and hanging.

In 1982 the owner destroyed the cells and a lot of the historic content and by 1998 the jail had been turned into a Shopping Centre – A Micro Mall. A fitting end for a building so steeped in history? And only in Ireland – with a little help from the taxpayer.

The jail was the work place of one of the most famous executioners of her time “Lady Betty” who started her work there in 1780. At the time the judicial system was such that it regarded prison as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Criminals were dealt with by Hanging and Flogging.

This was done in front of the jail and was a form of public entertainment. Nowadays, Ireland has the state broadcaster RTÉ for entertainment, a system whereby the television audience pay to be the victims.

Lady Betty is thought to have been from Kerry originally and lived as a single mother on the edge of Roscommon.  Occasionally doing a spot of Bed and Breakfast. She educated her son who later left the country for America.

One night a handsome gentleman turned up at Betty’s door. Asking for shelter. She gave him shelter. And when he had gone to sleep she murdered him.  On going through his documents she discovered she had murdered her own son. Yes – sounds like a bit of an Irish story. She fled in hysterics and was captured and sentenced to be hanged.

Hanging day was to be a big affair, as plenty of prisoners had been saved for the occasion. Then disaster struck. The hangman was ill. The show was going nowhere. Ceasing the employment opportunity like a boss. Betty told the confused sheriff that she would hang the prisoners.  Which she did much to everyone’s satisfaction.

So there you go a story with a happy ending. Betty got to live in the jail rent free, with meals. In return for this she flogged and hanged the prisoners for free.  She also introduced a number of innovations. When someone popular was to be hanged and there was a possibility that the crowd could turn nasty, she threw the prisoners out of a window. She later refined this technique to a long drop system  at the front of the jail. Then this was a time of innovation.  It is said she did charcoal sketches of her victims on the prison wall, as a means of self improvement.

I think the window she led her charges out of, is now part of a very nice Italian Café, which I can recommend.  And is also unusual in Roscommon because of its low prices and high standards.