'The Joy' is a four part documentary series where for the first time cameras were given extensive access to Dublin's Mountjoy Prison.

Episode One 'The Joy - A Day in the Life' covers a typical day in the prison from the perspective of the inmates and staff. On any one day there are over 700 prisoners and 350 staff in the Mountjoy complex.

Governor John Lonergan describes the perception that the public have of the prison,

Mountjoy today is associated with every negative aspect of crime and in many cases it is the first institution or the first area that's sort of taken the blunt of the criticism. The revolving door, overcrowding, drugs, suicides. You name it. It's associated with Mountjoy.

The major problem facing the prison is that the demand on its services is far greater than the capacity available. 

In a way Mountjoy is doing a huge amount of work, over and above what could be expected of it.

John Lonergan
Prison Governor John Lonergan. Photograph by John Cooney.

In this excerpt from the programme a prisoner describes the daily routine which begins at 8.15 with the degrading experience and mental torment of "slopping out". 

All this rubbish, all this human excrement that's lying on the floor, the dirty toilet rolls, blood, vomit, is all there before you have your breakfast. 

Executive Head Chef at the prison Francis McMahon describes what the prisoners get in their breakfast packs. After breakfast, prisoners return to their cells and are locked up again. 

Chief Officer James Petherbridge provides a brief history of Mountjoy, which is modelled on the Pentonville prison design. Mountjoy Prison is the younger sister prison of HM Prison Crumlin Road in North Belfast, and both were constructed by the same builders. Building began on Mountjoy prison during famine times in Ireland around 1846, with the first prisoners arriving in 1848. The prison was officially opened in May 1850. Many of the earliest convicts in the prison were sent on to Australia. 

Chief Officer Paddy Ring describes the construction of the prison based around the old "wheel system", where the prison wings spread out from a central hub. 

Episode 1 'The Joy - A Day in the Life' was broadcast on 27 January 1997.

Donald Taylor Black, on the landing of Dublin's Mountjoy Prison
Donald Taylor Black. Photograph by Des Gaffney. 

'The Joy' was a Poolbeg Production for RTÉ. The series was produced and directed by Donald Taylor Black.

What was different about Black's four-part series from previous films on the subject, was that instead of concealing the identity of prisoners and staff, they sought the permission to show every person in shot.  'The Joy' provided an unprecedented look inside Ireland's largest and most controversial prison. The four parts covered a day in the life, the prison drugs scene, the female prison and a final programme called 'Them and Us' charting the relationship between the prisoners and prison officers during a hostage crisis and prison siege. The production team spent six weeks in Mountjoy during the summer and autumn of 1996.

Speaking to the RTÉ Guide, ahead of the broadcast Donald Taylor Black explains his objective of telling a balanced story with input from the prisoners and those working within Mountjoy. 

The Joy is not a straightforward documentary as it includes a wide cross-section of interviews. Among the interviewees are the governor and his assistants, prison officers, probation and welfare people, a chaplain and the prisoners.


Viewing figures for 'The Joy' were unprecedented for a documentary series averaging 796,000 viewers per episode and 56.7% audience share. Episode 3 'In The Female Prison' was watched by 877,000 people and had an audience share of 62.1%.