The first construction on the site of what is now Griffith College was the Grimwood Nurseries. From 1813 until 1877, the site was occupied by a prison named the Richmond Bridewell. The initial construction of the buildings cost the city of Dublin some £40,000, a very considerable outlay in those times.
It was described in 1837 in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland as a;
"spacious structure enclosed by walls flanked with towers at the angles, and is entered by a massive gateway; between the outer wall and the main building is a wide space, intended for a rope-walk; the interior consists of two spacious quadrangles, the sides of which are all occupied by buildings; the cells, which are on the first floor, open into corridors with entrances at each end; the rooms in the second floor are used as work-rooms".
The Richmond Bridewell was used to hold offenders convicted of minor crimes. Nevertheless, conditions there were tough. Among the punishments were solitary confinement, the treadmill, wearing a metal helmet that constricted the skull and flogging. At its height in the 1860s, the Richmond Bridewell normally held between 200 and 250 prisoners at any one time but in the year 1870, for example, over 3,000 prisoners passed through it. In 1868 a man named Andrew Carr was hanged there for murder.
One of the Richmond Bridewell's most famous prisoners was the nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell, who was held there for three months in 1843 after his proposed 'Monster Meeting' at Clontarf in favour of Repeal of the Union, or Irish self-government, had been declared illegal. O'Connell's stay there was, however, much more comfortable than that of most ordinary prisoners -being housed in rooms in the Governor's suite.
A number of famous Irish nationalist activists were subsequently imprisoned in the Richmond Bridewell, notably the Young Ireland leaders Thomas Francis Meagher and William Smith O'Brien (both in 1848) and the Fenian leader James Stephens, who was arrested in 1865 but escaped shortly afterwards, fleeing to France and later America. His escape from the Richmond Bridewell created headlines across the English speaking world at the time.
Sale of the site
In 1877 the site was purchased by the War Department, as the location for a future barracks, but it was not occupied by troops until the 1890s. In the meantime, while still a prison, it witnessed the execution of Joseph Poole, a member of the Fenians, who was convicted of the murder of an alleged informer, John Kenny. It was widely believed that Poole's conviction had been achieved by 'packing' the jury with men of unionist views and by bribing and coercing witnesses to testify falsely against Poole. He was nevertheless hanged in the Richmond Bridewell on December 18, 1883 and buried in an unmarked grave.
In the 1950s, family members of Poole's appealed for excavations in order to discover his grave and allow for a proper reburial. No remains, however, were found on the site.
In 1892, after extensive re-building work, the Richmond Bridewell, now renamed Wellington Barracks, was occupied by troops of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. It was garrisoned by British troops up to 1922.