A new exhibition is opening on October 4th at Armagh County Museum and it will explore the history of crime, gender and mental illness in late nineteenth century Ireland. Entitled “Mad or Bad” the exhibition runs until 18th February 2017.
Armagh Courthouse also played a part in this story because many of the decisions made at trials were influenced by the defendant’s sanity or gender. These life and death factors were always present but not always obvious.
The museum has used objects from its own collections as well as loans from other museums and archives to illustrate this challenging subject. Many of the items on display have poignant and often tragic stories to tell.
Armagh Jail was often the final destination for those that had broken the law and faced trial. Others less fortunate were sent to the gallows. However there was a third alternative; the Lunatic Asylum.
The exhibition addresses the question of why the accused’s gender and not just the nature of their crime often determined if they ended up in an asylum, prison or on the gallows.
The museum is working closely with staff and students from Queens University Belfast to research particular cases using original convict photos as a starting point. Each photograph is a tangible link to a lives lived in an era when law breaking often had life changing consequences.
The photos of the two above convicts appear by kind permission of Northern Ireland Prisons Museum, the copyright holders