Last night I took part in the Walk & Talk series organised by the Old Drogheda Society and Drogheda Millmount Museum. Like all good things, I’d read about it on Facebook and was quick to join up, as I’m mad into local social and cultural history these days, what with setting all my novel writing here. (Well they do say to write about what you know).
This week’s topic was Crime & Punishment and I expect many people turned up, because it had been promo’d on local news website www.droghedalife.ie as “Prostitutes on the Dublin Road / Murder in Shop Street”. Gagging for gossip we were. “Tell us about the ho’s,” I heard one elderly woman cry.
Our host for the evening was the engaging Audrey Smith and she began the talk across from the site of one of Drogheda’s oldest jails. The site (now St. Mary’s Church) was a basic hole in the ground with bars, and you were flung in there for years, unless somebody rich enough could get you out.
Here she told us about the prostitutes on the Dublin Road too. As this was the highway to Dublin (clue is in the name) there were many brothels and kip houses all along the the hill. Strangers used to wander into this part of town and be accosted by six foot tall, straw haired, love you long time types. “More about the ho’s,” shouted that elderly lady again as we made our way down to Scotch Hall to learn about the blueshirts and the riots they caused. Honestly some people just love digging dirt.
At the Tholsel, we got inside after hours to learn about the court sittings that used to take place there, where men, women and children were hauled before the magistrates (who usually weren’t trained in law) and sentenced to jail or by the sounds of it, most times, death.
The gallows hung outside the courthouse and if someone was sentenced to death and there were no gallows ready, they swung a rope over the nearest pole and did the deed there. Can you imagine all the people that died on the very spot where you push your trolley of groceries every week?
We learned about infanticide. while standing outside St. Peter’s Church of Ireland, and were told that the murder of babies was rampant in the 19th century, right up to the 1940s. Mostly led by Catholic shame, it seems babies born out of wedlock were often discarded rather than allowed to live. And with the lack of contraception, there were a lot of babies who didn’t make it past birth. It was terribly sad.
At Rope Walk we heard about the case of Mr Maguire and his two (lady of the night) friends who attacked and left for dead a young female victim. Maguire was hanged, while protesting his innocence, but the two ladies were transported to Australia, where as luck would have it, half discovered the Australian gold mine. They became rich and powerful and sure all was forgiven.
Our last stop was Eddie’s Hardware, or as it used to be know Drogheda Gaol. It sounded like a fierce place altogether, with high walls, iron railings, ready made gallows at the front (aesthetic and warning value) and a whole industry of punishment inside.
It’s weird to think that people were locked up in cess infested hell holes where you now go and pick your living room paint.
As I made my way back to my car after the talk, I couldn’t help but notice that dusk had descended on our ancient town and it looked quite beautiful in parts. There were olds walls, old gates, iron railings, cast lamps; all standing there majestically, while we pass by each day, never even noticing.
Do you look at the history on your doorstep? Do you ever examine a piece of your town, a footpath or wall and think, who lived here? What happened to them? What was it like?
Because I do. All the time. But then, they don’t call be Nerdy Nicci for nothing. (They don’t but hey, they should).
Visit www.millmount.net to find out more about the Walk & Talk series or to learn about joining Old Drogheda Society.