A visit to the brilliant Cork City Gaol is arguably one of the best things to do in Cork.
And it’s hands-down one of the best things to do in Cork City when it’s raining!
Especially if you fancy finding out about what used to happen to prisoners in days of old in the Rebel County.
Cork Gaol is a fabulous castle-like building that will give you fascinating insight into the way justice used to work many years ago.
Some quick need-to-knows about Cork City Gaol
Although a visit to Cork Gaol is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Cork City Gaol is now a museum located on Convent Avenue, Sunday’s Well, and close to the Our Lady of the Rosary Church. You can park on the street outside.
2. Opening hours
From September to April, the museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 10am to 4pm. Allow one to two hours for your visit (note: times may change).
The prices for Cork Gaol are as follows (note: prices may change):
- An adult with guide book: €10 (€12 with the audio guide)
- A family ticket with the guide book: €30 (plus €2 for the audio guide)
- Seniors and student tickets: €8.50 (€10.50 for the audio guide)
- Child with a guide book: €6 (€8 for the audio guide)
A history of Cork Gaol
The history of Cork City Gaol is long and eventful, and I’m not going to be able to do it justice with a short overview.
The below overview is intended to give you a quick insight to the history of Cork Gaol – you’ll discover the rest when you stroll through its doors.
Designed in the early 1800s
The Gaol was designed in the early 1800s to replace the city’s old gaol at the North Gate Bridge, which by that point was almost 100 years old, overcrowded and unhygienic.
The building work started in 1818. It was designed by the architect William Robertson and built by the Deanes. When the prison opened in 1824, it was described as being “the finest in three kingdoms”.
Early days at the gaol
Initially, the prison housed both female and male prisoners—anyone who committed a crime within the city of Cork’s boundaries.
The 1878 General Prisons (Ireland) Act led to the separation of male and female prisoners and the Gaol became a women’s prison.
Male and female Republican prisoners were held there during the Irish Civil War. The Gaol closed in 1823 with all the existing prisoners either released or transferred elsewhere.
The building was used by Radio Eireann to broadcast Cork’s first radio station from the late 1920s up until the 1950s.
Cork City Gaol first opened as a visitor attraction in 1993. Inside the cells, you will find life-like wax figures and be able to read the graffiti on the walls that reveals the prisoners’ inner most thoughts.
There is an audio-visual show that helps you discover more about 19th century life in Cork, and the contrasts between rich and poor.
The Cork Gaol tour
The Cork City Gaol tour is a great indoor attraction for history enthusiasts. The museum presents a piece of history that allows you get a feel for what life would have been like for the prisoners of old.
The museum offers self-guided tours either with a guidebook or you can upgrade to an audio guide, which is available in 13 different languages.
What is highlighted is the harshness of the 19th century penal system, with people imprisoned for crimes of poverty such as stealing loaves of bread or simply for drunkenness or using obscene language.
You can also take in the Radio Museum at Cork Gaol, which showcases relics from the building’s time as a broadcast house.
Things to do near Cork Gaol
One of the beauties of Cork City Gaol is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Cork Gaol (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. The English Market
Once you have worked up an appetite exploring the museum, why not take in the nearby covered English Market? Here you will find a selection of the county’s best produce, from organic fruit and vegetables, to seafood and shellfish, artisan cheeses and dairy products and much more. There are plenty of other restaurants in Cork to try, too!
2. Blackrock Castle
Developed as a coastal defense fortification in the late 16th century, Blackrock Castle is 2km from Cork city centre. After fire destroyed the castle, the city’s mayor rebuilt the place in the 1820s. An observatory was added in the early 21st century. There is also a visitor centre and observatory. It’s also home to one of the best places for brunch in Cork, as it happens.
3. Elizabeth Fort
Another defense fortification, Elizabeth Fort can be found off Barrack Street in the city. Built in the 17th century, the fort has been a military barracks, prison and a police station. In 2014, it became a tourist attraction.
4. The Butter Museum
Ireland is well known for the quality of its dairy products, so it is not surprising that a museum dedicated to its wonderful butter sprung up in Cork. The Butter Museum showcases the central role of dairy and butter in the country and describes the internationally important Butter Exchange that existed in Cork in the 1800s. It also touches on the modern-day success story of Kerrygold Butter.
5. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
Love amazing buildings? A visit to the Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is a must. This 19th century cathedral was built in the Gothic Revival style and was built in 1879. Fin Barre is the patron saint of Cork and the cathedral is located on a site that was used in the 7th century for a monastery he founded there.
FAQs about Cork City Jail
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether Cork City Jail is worth visiting to what to see nearby.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What is there to do at Cork City Gaol?
You can take a guided or a self-guided tour of Cork Jail and discover the hundreds of years’ worth of history the building boasts.
Is Cork City Jail worth visiting?
Yes! Cork City Jail is well worth a visit – it’s an especially good spot to drop into when it’s raining.
What is there to do near Cork Jail?
There’s lots to see and do near Cork Jail, from an endless number of pubs, restaurants and cafes to ancient sites, like the Castle and the Cathedral to gorgeous river walks.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.