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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

An Oubliette

The Wall in Oughterard, from

The Wall in Oughterard, from

Boy George and Oughterard – Linked

Before the conception of the modern judicial system, and before the rights enshrined in Britain’s Magna Carta were extended to the majority of her subjects, the enforcement of the rule of law was performed by magistrates. Simply put these were the ruling class. Why? They, or their ancestors were greedier, more viciously expansionist and more fortunate than anyone else.

To incur the displeasure of those born with a silver spoon in their pampered mouths might have had several outcomes, from the trivial to the lethal and many shades in between. It could have gone either way, but when there would have been little or no repercussion for the lord, you were usually quite fucked.

In what was the old O’Flaherty castle in Oughterard, county Galway, is an innocuous looking wall. Now lime washed, it would originally have had animals skins or tapestries hanging from it as decoration and insulation.


Behind this wall is a chamber with a simple hole in the floor. At first glance the hole appears to be the business end of a privy. While the entrance may have accepted such gifts of the digestive system it was in fact designed for a wholly different purpose- the predominantly one-way traffic of humans.

This is an oubliette. Coming from the french verb to forget, an oubliette is a small personal prison, which no self-respecting landlord could have done without in such harsh feudal times. The idea is that a person can go in to this tiny room, but whether egress is feasible or not, is of little concern. Bear in mind, that Galway at that time was a borderland in constant violent flux. Situated on the far western reaches of the British Empire, this was a place, you would imagine, which was not unlike Helmand Province in Afghanistan today.

Wrongful Imprisonment

The idea of social and cultural elites or celebrities engaging in a little incarceration for their own pleasure is, it would seem, alive and well today. The most recent ‘high profile’ case of wrongful imprisonment was that of Boy George.

It was alleged and, one must assume, proved that Boy had found himself a male escort for an evening’s entertainment. As the boudoir olympics reached naked sweaty heights you would never,ever, want to picture mentally, Boy refused to allow his boy to leave and instead manacled him to a radiator.

The karma chameleon struck while the iron was hot and Mr George found himself detained, at Her Majesty’s pleasure. While the old queen was imprisoned by the old queen he might have ruminated on his Irish ancestry and longed for a time when one man could arbitrarily lock another man up. Or, because the link between oubliettes and Boy George that The Inquisition is trying to make is tenuous at best, he may not have thought about that at all.


A less contrived and stilted recent example of an oubliette was detailed in the latest installment of the annual Three Men in a Boat series by the BBC. Griff Rhys Jones, Rory McGrath and Dara O’Briain were in Limerick visiting Leap Castle. During the early stages of restoration work a sealed room was uncovered with the impaled skeletal remains of seven people. Lovely.

Leap Castle
Three Men go to Ireland

This article was posted by on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 05:23.
It is archived in Architecture, Culture, History, Ireland, Myth, Wild Places and tagged , , , , , , , , .

One Response to An Oubliette

  1. Pingback: The Oubliette in Enniscorthy Castle | The Inquisition

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