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History of the Site

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  1. History of the Gaol
    In March 1798 the Belfast Newsletter announced that the County Grand Jury of Down intended to build a new gaol for the County. It was to be modelled according to the recommendations of the penal reformer John Howard. The architect was Charles Lilly who also carried out work on Down Cathedral.
  2. Restoring the Gaol
    The old Gaol of Downpatrick, now Down County Museum, was built under the supervision of the Marquis of Downshire, the Earl of Hillsborough, the Hon Edward Ward and Charles Lilly, architect, between 1789 and 1796. The prison complex covers one acre and contains three main structures.
  3. Thomas Russell
    The County Gaol's most famous prisoner was the United Irishman Thomas Russell, executed here for his part in the abortive rebellion of 1803. For many County Down people, Russell is 'the man from God knows where', immortalised in the ballad of the same name by Bangor poet, Florence Mary Wilson, which generations of school children learnt!
  4. Gaol Officials
    Various officials were employed at the Gaol by the County Grand Jury of Down.  Information on the staff is drawn from surviving presentment books, information in the Belfast Newsletter and from the pen of Downpatrick diarist, Aynsworth Pilson.
  5. Transportation
    The County Gaol of Down was a transportation gaol. Those sentenced to be sent to the penal colony of New South Wales were held in the Gaol prior to being despatched to Australia.
  6. 1798 Rebellion in Down
    The Rebellion of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland. The organisers were the United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions.
  7. An image of inside the Gaol.
    In 1993 Down County Museum embarked on a project to gather information on the convicts who had been transported from the County Gaol of Down to the penal colony of New South Wales.
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