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Prisons are not seen, normally, as happy places. By their nature, they are places of punishment, institutions where Society holds those who infringe it’s rules for varying lengths of time and (in the past) varying punishments. 

Marriage, too, is an institution – and, as the old joke goes, who’d want to live in an institution for the rest of your life? Many, many people of course choose to do just that, and every day thousands of people get married around the word. 

Whereas traditionally weddings took place in a chapel, today other venues are used. Traditionally, marriages were a religious affair, carried out in churches, today more and more are civil functions and carried out in various places – private houses, undersea locations …. The weirder the better!

And yet, one would not associate a prison with a wedding, or would one?  

A male prisoner, perhaps, due to be executed, might wish to marry so his wife could inherit his estate, big or small as that might be. It may be the only way he could will anything to her.

So, what evidence do we have of weddings in Kilmainham Gaol? 

Gaols uses several different registers to record the inmates, including there would be a General Register recording everyone admitted to the prison. 

This is the register that gives one a prison number, and records details of the prisoner, the charge, date admitted, arresting officer etc., etc..

On top of that there are several other registers, e.g:

Kilmainham Gaol, like most gaols of any size, had a chapel. When it opened first, it was a multi-denominational one, used by all religions but, later in the 19th Century, a Catholic chapel existed as well as a Protestant one. 

(The Catholic one is shown above as it is today, and the Protestant is shown below, as it looks today). 

So, marriages could, in theory at least, could be performed there.

But who would want to get married in prison? Would anyone prefer this location to any other?

Well, those who would decide to marry in a working prison would do so for one of two reasons. If they worked and lived there, especially the bride-to-be, then that would be her church and she might want to get married there. 

A female prisoner, on the other hand, who was pregnant, might want to marry her child’s father before the birth so that the child would not be born a bastard – an incredible stigma in the 18th and 19th centuries – and only the prison’s chapel would be available if permitted.

Drunks Register – all incarcerated for drink offences;
Tried Register – details of a prisoner’s trial and the outcome;
Female Prisoners Register – female prisoners, their charges, crimes and sentences;
Male Prisoners Register – male prisoners (over 14), their charges, crimes and sentences;
Children’s Register – child (i.e. under 14) prisoners, their charges, crimes and sentences;
Transportees Register – a specific register for prisoners sentenced to transportation, their charges, crimes and sentences, ship sent on, etc.;
LunaticRegister – a specific register for lunatics, their charges (if any), crimes and sentences.
Births Register – all children born to prisoners in the prison; 
Marriages Register – a register of all marriages which took place within the walls of the prison;
Deaths Register - a record of all deaths that occurred in the prison, from whatever cause.

 In addition to these, there were usually postal registers – i.e. records of mail sent and received by prisoners, a Conduct Register which recorded a prisoner’s conduct, and an Infirmary Register which recorded the medical history of the prisoners.

There should also be work books, recording work done by the prisoners and the pay they received (or were due) for it, records of clothing allowances etc.

This is an ongoing search, and we hope to carry at least one article each on marriages, births and deaths in Kilmainham Gaol in the near future.

If you, dear reader, have any information in particular or in general, we would be glad of it. Did your ancestor get married in the Gaol? Did she give birth to a child there? 

Let us know, with whatever evidence you have – we’d love to hear it. 

Kilmainham Gaol is missing most of these, unfortunately. A couple of the books that do exist record conduct, one or two record children as children but, for the most part, all that survive are the General Registers. These do not record marriages or births.

So, in the absence of these registers, one needs to look elsewhere, and this is difficult. 

Of course, there is one famous wedding which took place in Kilmainham Gaol, and for which there is incontrovertible proof – that of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford, May 3, 1916. There’s even a song about it!
But Kilmainham Gaol had closed as a prison in 1910, and was now under military control, partly a military barracks, and partly a military prison. The wedding certificate states that the

Over the course of the Gaol’s life the Protestant chaplain was from St. Jude’s Parish, a church just a little way up the Inchicore Road, and shown above. Little remains of this church today, but its registers have been transcribed and are accessible.

The Catholic chaplain was from St. James’ Church in James’ Street, and these records, too, are available for research.

Marriages within the Gaol appear to be recorded in these registers, but births are not. Baptisms refer to children born or living in “Kilmainham” but is that the district or Gaol? 

A glance at the parents’ occupations or addresses can help – “Governor, Kilmainham”, “Prison Warder”, for example, are clearly references to prison staff. 

But prisoners are harder to identify.

marriage took place in the Catholic Chapel, Kilmainham Prison – so no argument about this. Read about this through the link below.

The prisoner – Joseph Plunkett – was condemned to death for his part in the Easter Rising, and he wished to secure his fiancée Grace Gifford, who may have been pregnant with his child. (If she was, she later had a miscarriage). 

So this wedding has all the hallmarks of a prison wedding, even down to the guards being the witnesses, and the officiating priest being from St. James’ Church.

But this is not the only wedding that took place in Kilmainham Gaol. We know of at least one other and an article on that will appear here soon. 

Watch this space! 

Micheal O Doibhilin

The most famous wedding in Kilmainham Gaol's history - and the last - took place on the night of 3 May, 1916 between Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford.

He was condemned to death, she may have been pregnant.

Read about this wedding here. 

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