Lifford Courthouse

Lifford Courthouse is a judicial building situated in the centre of Lifford, County Donegal, in Ulster, Ireland.

Lifford Courthouse
Lifford Courthouse.jpg
Lifford Courthouse
Lifford Courthouse is located in Ireland
Lifford Courthouse
Lifford Courthouse
Location within Ireland
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical style
AddressLifford, County Donegal
CountryIreland
Coordinates54°49′59″N 7°28′43″W / 54.8331°N 7.4787°W / 54.8331; -7.4787Coordinates: 54°49′59″N 7°28′43″W / 54.8331°N 7.4787°W / 54.8331; -7.4787
Completed1746
Design and construction
ArchitectMichael Priestley

HistoryEdit

The building, which was designed by Michael Priestley, was completed in 1746.[1] Previously courts had been held in any suitable building and in one case, when the court met in a public house, the fines collected over the course of a day was used to buy drinks for the jury.[2] The building also incorporated a prison in the basement until a purpose-built facility was opened next to the courthouse in 1793.[1]

Following the implementation of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, which established county councils in every county, the Grand Jury Room also became the meeting place for Donegal County Council.[3] The purpose-built prison next to the courthouse was demolished in 1907[1] and the county council moved to County House on the opposite side of the Diamond in 1930.[4]

The building continued to be used as a courthouse until 1938 and then fell into disrepair before being renovated in the late 1980s and then being fully renovated in the early 1990s and being reopened as a Heritage Centre in 1994.[5]

 
Crest of arms, Lifford Courthouse - geograph.org.uk - 1304004

Crime and punishmentEdit

Transportation was a common punishment in Lifford, with many sent by boat to colonies overseas. Crimes in the courthouse that warranted a sentence of transportation include "stealing 2 caps", "stealing a handkerchief and blankets" and "stealing 5 chickens and 2 hens".[6] Public hangings were also a common spectacle. One hanging in 1831 alone is reported as drawing a crowd of around 12 thousand men, women and children.[7]

 
Donegal's County Gaol in the basement of the Old Courthouse

The gallows, at the front of the new gaol, were also the setting for the infamous 'half-hanging' of John 'Half-Hung' MacNaghten, in one of the earliest recorded public hangings at the courthouse in 1761.[8] It was not only murder that carried the sentence of death in Donegal at that time, but also 'killing and maiming cattle' and horse-stealing. The last public execution in Lifford is thought to have been in 1847.[1]

With the phasing out of transportation, prison sentences became a more common punishment in Ireland. Some prisoners were sentenced to an additional punishment of hard labour during their stay in Lifford. Just as in many other prisons throughout Ireland, this usually consisted of breaking stones which were then used to build and repair roads, or grinding up bones, which would then be used as fertilizer. Another more public punishment was whipping, sometimes performed in the town where the offense was originally committed.[9]

Notable prisonersEdit

Notable prisoners included:

Visitor centreEdit

 
An actor performs a one-man-show in The Old Courthouse, Lifford

Today, the old courthouse operates as a museum, where the public can walk through the cells and experience life as a prisoner. Visitors to the prison are 'arrested' and taken down into the dungeons on the guided tour. This takes the form of a one-man show in which an actor portrays some of the jail's infamous residents. The building also now houses a bistro, a local library, conference rooms and often hosts special events.[13]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d "History". Lifford Courthouse. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  2. ^ "The Manor Courts." Exhibit at Lifford Old Courthouse. The Diamond, Lifford, Co.Donegal, Ireland, accessed 2013-04-18
  3. ^ "Establishment of Donegal County Council". Donegal County Council. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Local Area Plan" (PDF). Donegal County Council. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  5. ^ Patton, Billy. "The Court Will Rise". L.A.T.C.H, 2004, p12, p.90
  6. ^ Patton, Billy. "The Court Will Rise". L.A.T.C.H, 2004, p59
  7. ^ Patton, Billy. "The Court Will Rise". L.A.T.C.H, 2004, p41
  8. ^ Gordon Goodwin, ‘MacNaghten, John (1723/4–1761)’, rev. Thomas P. Power, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  9. ^ Patton, Billy. "The Court Will Rise". L.A.T.C.H, 2004, p61
  10. ^ Gordon Goodwin, ‘MacNaghten, John (1723/4–1761)’, rev. Thomas P. Power, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  11. ^ Patton, Billy; Mulreany, Anglea. "The Old Courthouse News". Issue 4, L.A.T.C.H, 2002
  12. ^ Patton, Billy; Mulreany, Anglea. "The Old Courthouse News". Issue 4, L.A.T.C.H, 2002
  13. ^ Lifford Courthouse (2013) "Lifford Old Courthouse Home" Lifford Old Courthouse. Retrieved 2013-04-26

External linksEdit