Tarbert Bridewell

On Saturday last, as part of a tour organized by The Shanid Historical Society we visited the Tarbert Bridewell, just over the Limerick border, in Tarbert Co. Kerry.

I have often marvelled at the wonderful sounding ‘Bridewell’ and wondered how on earth it has become to be associated with a jail! The dictionary tells me that it is a ‘house of correction; a prison so-called from the palace near St Bride’s or Bridget’s Well in London, which was turned into a penitentiary’

Built in 1831, the Tarbert Bridewell has been lovingly and beautifully restored by the local community. The original entrance has the word BRIDEWELL carved above the gate. It was originally completely enclosed by high walls, but these have now been replaced by railings at the front of the building.

The original entrance

The original entrance

Inside, the windows still have the original bars on the windows, the narrow doors still have the original bolts and locks.

Tarbert Bridewell served both as  the courthouse and a detention centre for those awaiting trial and those serving short sentences of up to 7 days imprisonment.


Depiction of the Courthouse

The narrow cells often housed up to 8 inmates with no sanitary facilities. In the outside yard there was a latrine for disposal of cell waste.



Waste disposal area

The small exercise yard was walled, so there was no means of escape

imageTarbert Bridewell continued as a detention centre until 1874 and as a courthouse for a further 75 years, after which it gradually fell into decline. As a result of dedication and determination of the  local community, this impressive historic  building has been  restored as a tourist attraction and a community centre. They also have a fabulous coffee and gift shop, so do drop in !



Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish History

13 responses to “Tarbert Bridewell

  1. Maria Mercer

    Thank you for sharing this. How fascinating. Do you know if the Shanid Historical Society, Co Kerry would hold records of inmates by any chance. Cheers.

    • The Shanid Historical Society is based in County Limerick so would not have records. Ita Bridgeman did say that they researched a few inmates, but did not indicate whether the records are available anyplace. Are you researching family in the Tarbert area?

  2. There’s me thinking Tarbert was where you got the ferry! Good to see they’ve kept up this piece of local history.

  3. Excellent! I didn’t know the origin of the word bridewell, nor if Tarbert bridewell. It’s wonderful to see such restoration projects around the country: they really add so much to our understanding of bygone times.

  4. SV, what an interesting post. Those thick walls gave me the shivers!
    BTW, I was thinking of you when listening the The Right Hook a little while back when the travel guy was talking animatedly for about 30 minutes about Newcastle West.

  5. Those thick high walls are depressing! Interesting post! I am glad the community chose to restore this part of history.

  6. Oddly, my husband and I often tour old jails. Sometimes because they’re haunted. Other times for the history. I never can imagine being imprisoned in one, though. Can you?

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