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 It was originally completely enclosed by high walls, but these have now been replaced by railings at the front of the building.
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.
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.
The small exercise yard was walled, so there was no means of escape
Tarbert 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 !