Wicklow's infamous jail was notorious throughout Ireland for the brutality of its keepers and the harsh conditions suffered by its inmates. The smells, vicious beatings, shocking food and disease-ridden air have long since gone, but adults and children alike can experience a sanitised version of what the prison was like – and stimulate the secret sadist buried deep within – on a highly entertaining tour of the prison, now one of Wicklow's most popular tourist attractions.
The prison was opened in 1702 to house inmates sentenced under the repressive Penal Laws and continued in the role until 1877, when it was reduced to the status of a remand prison (bridewell), before closing in 1924. The building fell into ruin before finally being restored in the 1990s in recognition of its historic significance.
Actors play the roles of the various jailers and prisoners, adding to the sense of drama already heightened by the various exhibits on show, including a life-size treadmill that prisoners would have to turn for hours on end as punishment; and the gruesome dungeon.
The prison also has a genealogical library, where you can scour Irish digital databases for details of Irish ancestry. Tours are every 10 minutes except between 1pm and 2pm; on the last Friday of every month there are adult-only night tours of the prison, complete with ghouls, finger food and a glass of wine.