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Queen’s historian launches book exploring life for women in 19th-century convict prisons in Ireland

An historian from Queen’s University Belfast has launched a book exploring life for women in the nineteenth-century convict prisons in post-Famine Ireland.

QUB Lanyon Building January 2020

This is the first study of women's experiences in a nineteenth-century Irish prison for serious offenders. Showcasing the various crimes for which women were incarcerated in the post-Famine period, from theft to murder, it examines inmate files in close detail in order to understand women's lives before, during and after imprisonment.

‘Women, Crime and Punishment in Ireland, Life in the Nineteenth-Century Convict Prison’, by Dr Elaine Farrell from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s, is published by Cambridge University Press.

Through case studies and individual narratives, Dr Farrell reveals imprisoned women's relationships with each other, with the staff employed to manage and control them, and with their relatives, spouses, children and friends who remained on the outside.

This book shines a light on the hardships many women experienced, their poverty and survival strategies, as well as their responsibilities, obligations, and decisions. Incorporating women's own voices, gleaned from letters and prison files, this intimate insight into individual women's lives in an Irish prison sheds new light on collective female experiences across urban and rural post-Famine Ireland.

Speaking about the publication, Dr Farrell said: “Individual women have a central place in this book, their lives documented in rich historical records precisely because they were convicted of a crime that was thought to warrant a lengthy prison stay. Crimes included serious violent offences like murder and manslaughter, but other offences for which girls and women ended up in prison for years might seem trivial to our eyes.

“In telling these diverse stories of crime and imprisonment, I hope to shed greater light on the broader realities of life in 19th-century Ireland for 'ordinary' girls and women.”

Dr Farrell research focuses on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Irish gender and crime history. She has published on infanticide and concealment of birth, imprisonment and transportation, criminal tattoos, and women in WWI.

She leads the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, ‘“Bad Bridget”: Criminal and Deviant Irish Women in North America, 1838-1918’, with Dr Leanne McCormick at Ulster University, which focuses on the sexually deviant woman, the bad mother and the criminal Irish woman in Boston, New York and Toronto. The “Bad Bridget Podcast’, featuring Derry Girls actor, Siobhán McSweeney, has recently launched and is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.



Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on email: and Mob: 07795676858