“ Museum „
Each time we visit Dublin we try to see something new, and last time we decided on the tour of Kilmainham jail. The entrance price was more than reasonable, in-fact cheaper than the coffees in the cafe! You get to spend a while in the museum part of the building before the tour begins and this gives you chance to learn things at your leisure about the history of the prison, Irelands troubled past under Britains ruling and many examples of previous prisoners accounts. An interesting exhibit is the peep hole door, which you can look through and experience how it must have been for a gardi of yesteryear who got to look in on these desperate people, one prisoner is male the other female and you watch as they wander around their cell aimlously, very haunting and fabulously authentic.
Once the tour begins you're welcomes by your guide, ours was a lovely fella who was really down to earth and not preachy or boring listing off facts but he integrated the group and had the craic with many. Almost forgot he was the leader at times, top guy.
You go into the prison chapel and learn the story of the easter rising prisoners including a desperate wedding ceremony that took place before death by firing squad the following morning. It was reported that the newly weds were allowed 10 minutes alone in a cell, where not a single word was spoken.
You're walked through the majority of the building (girls where flats!) through narrow corridors and small, steep stone steps and get a real sense of how forbidding the building must have seemed.
I recommend this to anyone interested in anything to do with Ireland's history, particularly the Easter Rising and many films have been shot here including a Fathers Son which is filmed in an area you are free to roam.
Really enjoyed this tour and well done Dublin for not charging over the odds - - - - for once!
When we first booked to visit Dublin I was delighted that we would be able to go and visit their Parliament but also looked forward to some of the places that were part of the lives of Oscar Wilde and W B Yeats. One place I had not considered was Kilmainham Jail although when it was suggested I agreed to go.
I knew a little about the 1916 Easter Uprising but learned much more while we were there.
The jail is a couple of miles outside Dublin city centre and it was here that many of the Irish rebels were incarcerated including Eamon de Valera. He was the last person to leave and this was in 1924. The first part was built in 1789 and the final wing added in 1861.
Not all inmates were as high profile as him and many had committed such meagre crimes that they would not be prosecuted today. There were others who deserved prison as they were convicted of rape and murder. It is reported that the youngest inhabitant was just 5 years old. Many did not get to see Dublin again as they were amongst the many who were sent to Australia. Throughout the almost 130 years it was in service there were many people who passed through its gates and some did not come out.
There was no privacy for the sexes as both men and women were forced to live side by side in the small dark damp cells. There was a hanging cell in the jail but we were told that the stories about how many hangings had taken place over the years were very much exaggerated. Babies were left in the jail and the women were treated more harshly than the men - the men at least had some form of bed, the women slept on the floor.
Debt was considered a major crime in Ireland and during the Great Famine many people ended their days in prison. Estimates are that there were1,000s in there during the famine years and their only crime was being hungry and poor.
The first thing that happened was that we were shown a video that gave a bit of background to the prison and prisoners. This takes about 20 minutes and then it is off to the coldest and most depressing corridor I can remember. It does not bear thinking about the suffering that must have been felt by the inmates. Although this was a hot May day, the corridor was freezing and winter must have been horrendous. However poor these conditions were, we were told that the punishment cell was much worse and many could not endure the time they spent in there. There were keys still there and they were the biggest keys I have seen - one was about 10" long.
Next we went to the Victorian part of the prison - the East Wing. When I stood in the cells here I was surprised at the size thinking that there was at least plenty of room for a prisoner but was told that each cell would have housed 5 not one. As for the lighting, that was new, and all the heat and light would have come from candles. As there are 96 cells it would have meant around 500 people in a space that was better suited to 200. There was no privacy as small holes in the doors meant that warders could look in at any time so the only time prisoners could relax was in the hour they were allowed out of the cell'
We were shown graffiti in some cells but there was no way to know how long this had been there and some of the cells had the names of the more famous inhabitants above the doorway.
We were told more about the prison in the context of the Easter Rising and the final and most poignant part was what is called the "1916 corridor".
This is where the prisoners from the Easter rising were kept. Having been fired upon with canons they were dragged to the jail and treated in ways that fortunately would no longer be allowed. Having endured this there were14 of them executed and the death of one is said to have been the final indignity that lead to the downfall of the British. None were in a good state of health by now but James Connolly - a Scot - was very close to death. This did not prevent him being executed as he was strapped into the chair so as he was upright when he was shot. We walked around the yard and it is hard to imagine on such a peaceful day that such atrocities had taken place.
Out of all the historical places I have visited and all the stories that have been attached to them, this along with Auschwitz is a place that I will remember for a long time for the emotion that seems to be still in the place although the feelings were different. It is hard to believe that when it was built it was considered to be of a good quality and showed a new more tolerant attitude towards prisoners.
The guides were excellent and gave a full and frank description of life for the prisoners and made it seem as if they were relating the story for the first time.
It is three years since I visited and I cannot remember what we paid but I have take the entrance price and the rest of the details from http://www.tourist-information-dublin.co.uk/kilmainham-jail.htm
I have noticed on that site they say the youngest inmate was 7 but we were told 5.
April - September:
09:30 - 18:00 (last admission at 17:00)
October - March:
Monday -Saturday 09:30 - 17:30 (last admission at 16:00),
Sunday: 10:00 - 18:00 (last admission at 17:00)
Closed on 24th, 25th & 26th December
Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin is one of the first 'modern' prisions in history, and is situated in the west of the city, athough when it was originally built, it was positioned in the countryside, away from the local population.
When you visit many of the more historic sites around Dublin, the story of independence, and the Easter rising is never far away, but there are few places that bring that story to you in such a moving way as it does here.
As with many of the tourist attractions in Dublin, there is no real parking near by, I would recommend getting on of the regular busses that pass by, otherwise it is probably a 15-20 min walk from Heuston Station where there are bus and regular Luas line tram stops.
During April - September, the museum is open 09.30 - 18.00 daily, and October - March it is 09.30 - 17.30 Mon - Sat & 10.00 - 18.00 Sunday. Adult admission is Euro6.00, with Students/Kids Euro2.00.
The front (and only!) entrance to the jail is as foreboding and as imposing as you could imagine, and on the (rainy) July day we arrived, there was a small queue outside, but the assistant at the door was friendly & chatty, and even offered his umbrella to a couple of rather under-prepared tourists.
Once inside, depending on how booked-out the tours are, you may have a bit of a time to pass until your slot comes, thankfully, there is a wonderfull museum on more than one level situated at the waiting area. Its packed full of the history of the prison, and jails in general. We had over half an hour to wait for our tour, but we never even got time to see the 1st floor of the museum, it was that interesting!
As it was busy, our group was pretty large, and this did make things a bit frustrating at times, as some areas are pretty narrow.
After being led through a courtyard, your tour begins with a short talk in the chapel, and this really sets the scene, giving you some history of the prision, and some stories regarding selection of inmates.
The tour itself is wonderfull, and begins by winding you through the narrow corridors of the older parts of the gaol. These areas are draughty and damp, and must have been horrible to stay in, despite the fact this jail was built to improve the conditions of inmates. You are then led through to the more recent wings which you may even recognise from a few movies, including the Italian Job, here you get a chance to wander about a few cells and get an idea of the cramped conditions.
All the way our friendly guide informed us of the history of the Irish rebellions, and told the personal experiences of some of the key figures involved, that were imprisioned here. These tales really add a dergee of emotional impact to the tour, and gives you get a real impression of the suffering of the time.
All in all, both me and my partner agreed that Kilmainham Gaol was one of the most interesting places to visit in the whole of Dublin, and we have seen a lot of the city!
Moving and atmospheric, who would have thought visiting a jail would be so interesting!
When you visit historical attractions in Dublin, you can't help but hear about the Easter Rising of 1916, the war of independence which followed and the civil war after that. Even on the open-top bus tours, a lot of things pointed out are linked to the rising. Once place which is prominently connected to the rising and the wars is Kilmainham Gaol, now a national monument.
Easily reached by public transport and served by both open-top bus tours, Kilmainham Gaol was once located outside the city, but as Dublin has expanded, it is now inside the city, close to the Gallery of Modern Art and Heuston Railway Station.
Entry is Euro6 for adults, and visits are by guided tour only. For most visitors no pre-booking is necessary (only for larger groups) and tours start regularly - on the weekday afternoon we visited it seemed to be every 20 minutes.
As it was lunchtime, we chose to visit the tearoom before touring the gaol. I have to be honest and say it was rather underwhelming. I had a piece of spinach quiche, the only vegetarian choice, which was served with some salad, coleslaw and what looked like cold colcannon but tasted like potato salad. The quiche wasn't bad, although probably would have been better cold than reheated in a microwave. The salad was fine, although a bit sad looking with it's shredded lettuce. The best part was actually the mystery potato stuff. My partner had a sausage roll, which was simply served on its own. The quiche seemed overpriced at Euro5.95, but the sausage roll was fine for Euro2.25.
Anyway, off we went to join our tour. You enter the gaol through a small museum area, and at the start of the tour the guide explains you must stay with the group at all times as it is easy to get lost in the gaol. Our group was quite large, probably more than 20 people, many of whom seemed, like us, to have come to the gaol following a visit to the Guinness Storehouse (I don't mean everyone was a bit tipsy - there were a lot of Guinness carrier bags in the group!).
Kilmainham Gaol was restored by volunteers between 1960 and 1980, having been abandoned after it was closed. It opened in 1796, and it is the older sections which you see first. Our guide, Orla, explained that these sections were very much like they were when the gaol was opened. It seemed to me like they were probably in slightly more disrepair now than they had been then, with damaged walls and some modern graffiti, but it was clear just how grim the place must have been then. The windows all have glass in them now, but that was not there when the gaol was in use. Prisoners back in the 1800s had only a wooden plank to sleep on, and a thin blanket. It was easy to imagine just how miserable incarceration there would have been.
We were shown a brief presentation in the chapel, with some slides showing pictures of the gaol in its early days. It was here that we were introduced to the gaol's connection to the 1916 rising - the leaders were held and executed at the gaol. We were shown pictures of them, and told the story of Joseph Plunkett, who married Grace Gifford in the gaol just the day before he was executed.
Continuing round the gaol, we reached a corridor of cells where many of these leaders had been held. Signs above the doors show the names of the cells famous occupants - unfortunately in this particular corridor the signs had been placed near the very high ceiling and were not very easy to see.Through peepholes in the doors we could see into the grim cells themselves. It was a depressing and somewhat creepy experience, and I didn't feel entirely at ease. I didn't feel the same urge to run that I do in religious buildings, but I did feel chilled and was careful to stay close to my partner, and the rest of the group.
We moved onto the much larger cell of Charles Stewart Parnell, a distinguished prisoner whose wealth and popularity ensured that he was kept in some style and comfort. He was even allowed to leave the gaol to attend a funeral in Paris - he went alone, having given his word as a gentleman that he would return and finish his sentence. Rather amazingly, he did. If it was me, I would have been off like a shot!
The Victorian section of the gaol is an entirely different place to the dark, miserable early sections. Of course it is still a prison, with small cells, but by this point it had been realised that light was important to the human psyche, and so the cells are situated around a large open atrium, a model which is familiar from any film which features a prison. In fact, the Victorian section of Kilmainham Gaol has been featured in numerous films and TV shows, perhaps most famously In The Name Of The Father starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Finally we saw two of the outdoor yards, used for hard labour and executions - notably those of the leaders of the Easter Rising. They are commemorated on plaques, on the wall beside a flagpole flying the Irish flag.
The tour was truly fascinating, very informative and very well presented. Orla was a very good guide, speaking clearly and authoritatively, although she did remind me of a slightly stern schoolteacher. What did strike me about the content of the tour however, was its bias. Of course what happened at the gaol is part of Irish history, and it is rightly a monument to the struggle for independence, and it is their history, to be told as they remember it, but everything said those fighting for independence from Britain seemed to be painting them as martyrs, saints almost. Now, I am by nature inclined to take the side of the Irish, so I didn't take offence at this, my vague knowledge of Irish history and their relationship with England seeming similar to Scotland's, but I was surprised just how biased towards the leaders of the rising and the war the history was. Of course history is going to have some bias depending on who is telling it, but I've never heard anything quite to that extent, even in Scotland. But the Easter Rising took place less than 100 years ago, and the relationship between Britain and Ireland is still strained to say the least, so it is still recent and relevant.
Despite this, I found the visit to Kilmainham Gaol to be interesting and informative. It may not be a pretty attraction, or even one that is comfortable to visit, but is certainly worth a visit - although you will be happy to get back into the sunshine afterwards.
The tour guide at Kilmainham Gaol reminded us that this was an historic site of national importance, both in terms of the building and prison reform, and in terms of the people who were imprisoned here. She was right, it was a haunting building, with haunting stories, and as I went round, the combination of the two certainly had an effect.
The prison is in Dublin and was built when the British ran Ireland, in 1789, to replace an older prison which was located very nearby. It is a large imposing building, with much of the mid nineteenth structure which was added being built to show the new liberal attitudes in Victorian prisons, that of reform and getting away from the old system where tens of people were crammed into a room with little light.
You enter the museum through the old main doors, and you discover later in the tour that you've walked under where some of the hangings had taken place. The museum costs 6 Euros to get in, and I was directed towards the museum section, whilst waiting for the guided tour of the prison itself.
I arrived early in the day, so had a lot of time to look around the museum before the first tour, and there are main displays to look through. There are some interactive exhibits, a lot of displays with writing to give you an indication of the history of prisons, and the history of Kilmainham, and also many exhibits with pieces of gaol history, such as old locks from the cell doors.
The guided tours start from the museum, and large groups seem to be quite common, so try to keep up and position yourself close to the tour guide so that you can hear what they're saying. The walk starts down the corridors of the gaol, with a glimpse of the main open part of the prison as you walk by.
It is the west wing of the gaol that you see first, en route to the old catholic chapel where there is a video to watch giving some more history of the building. The Church of Ireland chapel is above, still not restored, and it is a testament to the work of volunteers in the 1960s that so much of the prison has been restored and made accessible to visitors.
The cells in the west wing aren't pleasant, it is cold and damp. The stone feels damp to the touch, and the windows that are there now didn't used to be there, part of a regime which thought fresh air would help cleanse the mind. Given that prisoners used to have just one blanket, the thought of wind rushing through the already cold and damp cells is quite horrendous.
Like much of the prison, it is hard to imagine how much trauma prisoners had to go through in so many ways. Especially when the stories come to life, such as how many people in the Irish famine were sent here for begging, their only choice in the circumstances which they faced. The authorities never accepted it, but for many, begging for food was their only choice for survival, and hundreds were sent to Kilmainham at that time, dramatically over-filling the prison.
The next row of cells you see are in a number of ways an important part of Irish history, for it is here that the Easter Rising rebellion prisoners were housed. These were the prisoners who in 1916 occupied the General Post Office in O'Connell Street and launched a rebellion against British rule. Like previous rebellions, they failed in their immediate plans, but it was another hammer blow against British rule in the country.
A remarkable story was told here by our tour guide, that one of the prisoners in 1916 was sentenced to death, as many of the Easter Rising prisoners were, and he spent his last night writing a letter to his children and wife. He mentioned that he thought one of his sons would become a priest, which is what he did. And amazingly, his son is still alive, aged 97 and living in Hong Kong, and he sometimes returns to that cell where his father wrote that letter. That linked the present with the past, and made the cells in this area mean just a little bit more.
The tour then moves on to the main part of the gaol in the east wing, which in contrast to the previous cells is airy and bright, with light flooding in. It was thought that giving each prisoner their own cell, and lots of light, would encourage them to think of what they had done, give them to time to plan a new future, and the light would help give them a spiritual reflection on their lives.
In this part of the prison, you can walk in nearly all of the cells, which have been brightly painted, but which still seem bleak and barren, although much better than the previous cells in the west wing. There are dungeons underneath where prisoners were placed in solitary confinement for wrong-doings, but these can't be accessed, and it is a disappointment of the tour that so many passageways can't be explored. It was tempting to just run off and explore these passages, but I'm sure cameras would soon have noticed any wayward visitors!
The final part of the tour was to the large exercise yards, and then through to an area called the Stonebreaker's Yard where the leaders of the Easter Rebellion were executed by the British military. There is a memorial to the men who died, and two spots are marked out with crosses. One is where all but one were shot by young soldiers, who struggled with inexperience when in the firing squad. The other grave marker is where one man, James Connolly, was shot. He had been injured in the rebellion, and was brought straight from hospital, so ill and unable to walk that he had to be strapped to the chair before being shot.
The leaders of the Easter Rebellion were shot over the course of several days, and many of the Irish population in 1916 moved from a position of anger at the rebel leaders for causing so much damage to Dublin and O'Connell Street to a position of anger over the callous behaviour of the British troops and authorities. It was a key moment in Ireland's bid to become its own nation state.
Politics and history is never simple however, and the gaol it seems has in the past had a tour guide who was anti-British and was starting to rewrite history by missing out the Irish Civil War and downplaying sections of history. This wasn't a factor of my tour, the guide was fair and even-handed, and she was entirely aware of the prison's history, answering a wide range of questions quickly and with great detail.
At the end of the tour, I went back into the museum to finish looking around. There is an interesting display of photos and exhibits from when the prison was re-opened, which was done with the work of hundreds of volunteers. The prison had closed in the mid 1920s, and had been left for forty years, so much repair work had to be done.
For those interested in ghost stories, it is likely no surprise that the gaol has many reported sightings. One former caretaker of the building apparently said though that it was never the ghosts of the inmates that worried him, he felt they would do no harm, just the ghosts of the prison guards.
Overall, this tour was for me one of the most important visits I made anywhere in Dublin. There are other museums, such as at Collins Barracks, which also tell the story of the Easter Rising and the progress of Irish history. But the combination of the building, the stories within it and the importance of what happened here, made this for me a visit which was unforgettable, and certainly thought provoking.
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the stops on the Dublin open top bus tour we took on our recent trip to the city and had been recommended to us by our hotel receptionist as well worth a visit. The Gaol is the largest unoccupied prison in Europe and is only open to visitors as part of a guided tour and you are given a timed ticket on entry - we had to wait 30 minutes for our tour which we spent in the museum section which was a bit confusingly laid out but we had enough time to see most of the exhibits before our tour.
There were about 35 people on our tour which did make progress between stops a bit arduous as we had to wait for stragglers and for everyone to regroup before the tour guide could give us the next talk. Apart from that frustration though the tour was excellent and the guide was a really enthusiastic lady who made the tour both interesting and amusing. As well as incarcerating men, women and children for petty crimes the prison housed many murderers and also many of the men who organised the uprisings against British rule over the centuries. The cells in the older part of the prison were dark and damp but the Victorian part will be familiar to anyone who has seen any dramas set in prisons as was built to maximise natural light and feeling of space which they believed would give inmates an incentive to be free.
Being unfamiliar with Irish political history the tour was an excellent introduction and was a highlight of our visit. The tour takes about an hour and costs 6 euros for an adult. The Gaol also has a shop and tearooms but we didn't visit these so cannot comment.
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the most remarkable "tourist attractions" in Ireland - and possibly even in the world. Most of us will never get the opportunity to see inside a prison and experience the conditions of a Victorian facility like this one, and the stories and fascinating characters which inhabited these walls are something which should not be missed.
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest uninhabited jails in Europe. It was opened in 1796 as one of the 'new jails' which opened following social research into prison reform. Previously to this date criminals were held in large rooms all together and each facility just became a school for crime. Kilmainham is built in the same principals and design as London prisons of the time such as Pentonville, with a central atrium and corridors with individual cells along them. (As my flatmate commented - just like Bad Girls!).
Kilmainham has been a set for many films and television shows in recent years, including the Tudors series. There are two parts to the prison - the first area you visit is the oldest part of the prison where men, women and children often slept in the corridors due to overcrowding. Here are cells which held some of the most famous men and women of Irish History - those involved in the 1916 rebellion.
The museum itself costs 6 euros and consists of a small musuem which explains the social history of the prison reform movement, the politics of the Irish/English "war" and a fascinating exhibition of the last letters and belongings of some of the most famous men and women who were executed here. The tour is the only way to view the prison, and our tour guide was wonderful. She reallu brought to life the stories of the people who were incarcerated here - often for small crimes like theft of food during the Famine. We attended the museum after the tour and I think this is the best way to do it as the stories of the men and women imprisoned really made the information relevant.
The museum is owned by the Office of Public Works but before this has obviously been previously in some disrepair as there is much graffiti, and the parts open to the public are minimal compared to it's size. There are also aspects which in my opinion have been unecessarily restored such as the cells have been painted, and the painting of the madonna and chold done by Grace Gifford while she had been a prisoner had flaked off the wall and been replaced with an image. There is no 'museum' ness about the jail, with information or exhibits, and even in the museum section it is hard to read some of the old letters as they are not 'translated' into text - you have to read the faded handwriting behind glass.
Kilmainham Gaol is something I would encourage everyone to visit, it is a truly fascinating experience, it's just a shame that one of Irelands National Monuments has fallen into such disrepair and had not been more sensitively treated.
Absolutely a DO NOT MISS site when visiting Dublin. We learned and experienced Irish history here more than any other single place in Dublin. Add to that the story of the restoration of the jail and you have a real hit!
~ ~ It would in all probability never even cross your mind to visit a prison as a “tourist attraction” when visiting a strange city. But if you ever find yourself here in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, then to leave without visiting what is probably one of the most famous prisons in Europe, Kilmainham Gaol, would be a serious omission from your agenda. No other place in the city will give you quite such an insight into why it is the Irish are so proud of their independence, and I guarantee that you wont leave without feeling the full weight of Irish history bearing down on your shoulders. ~ ~ Kilmainham Gaol is situated in the Inchicore area of the city, only about 3 miles from the city centre, and easily accessible by bus, taxi, or indeed by foot, as it is a pleasant ramble up the length of the River Liffey which splits Dublin city into two parts, north and south. The prison opened for business way back in 1795, and its last inmate, Eamon de Valera, walked free from its gate in 1924, to go on to become the very first President of the Irish Free State. (as was, now the Irish Republic) In the 129 years it was used as a prison, some 180,000 prisoners sampled its dubious charms, the vast majority of them nothing more than common run-of-the-mill convicts, locked up for such crimes as murder, rape, burglary, prostitution, and, off course, debt, which in olden times here in Ireland was viewed as one of the most heinous of crimes! But it was also used by its British overlords as a place of incarceration for Irish patriots down through the years. Such notable heroes of the Irish Republic as Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, and the famous Scots Presbyterian, James Connolly, were all imprisoned here at Kilmainham. Here it was too that the British carried out their infamous execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Fourteen of the leaders of the battle of the GPO in Dublin were summarily
shot in its yard, some having to be strapped to wooden chairs, as their wounds were so severe that they couldn’t stand upright to face the firing squad. It was here that the famous “long drop” when hanging a prisoner was first thought of and invented. Not so long that it would literally tear off their head, but long enough so that it would break their neck cleanly, and not leave them dangling and choking on the hangman’s noose. In total, 23 political prisoners and some 138 common criminals were executed here at Kilmainham. It was also used during the Famine years as a place of residence for unfortunate Irish citizens who had been forced off their land by their unscrupulous British absentee landlords, and quite literally had no other place to turn. At the height of the famine it is reckoned that up to 10,000 people sought refuge within its porous limestone walls, rather than face almost certain death from starvation. Not that there wasn’t plenty of food to feed the population, but it was more profitable for the British owners of the land to export it and sell it abroad, than to be bothered saving the lives of their starving, but expendable, tenants. ~ ~ Nowadays it is one of the largest unoccupied prisons in the whole of Europe, and with over 120,000 visitors a year taking the Guided Tour, it ranks as the sixth most visited heritage site in the whole of the Irish Republic. The tour guides really know their stuff too, and many are serious students of Irish history. The tour usually begins in the East Wing of the old prison. Built in 1861, this is a truly striking three-storey building, with a total of 96 cells, and topped by a massive 200 foot by 40-foot cupola type glass roof. If you are an avid film buff, you might even recognise this part of the prison, as it has been used in recent Irish films such as “In The Name Of The Father” (about the Birmingham Six) and “Michael Collins”
. All the cell doors face outwards into the centre of the wing, and all have a small spy hole, which allowed the guards to constantly supervise the inmates. This wing was built with the old Victorian idea in mind that “silence was golden”, and that quiet contemplation of their crimes would lead many prisoners into experiencing a religious conversion. This rule of silence was rigorously upheld for 23 hours a day. The only time the inmates could freely converse with each other was when they were allowed their one-hour exercise period, and anyone breaking this rule was immediately thrown into dank, dark and unheated punishment cells to further contemplate their fate. You can enter the actual cells here, and will be fascinated by the widespread graffiti, outlining the many varying reasons that a person had found themselves incarcerated, and the varying lengths of their tenure. Many of the famous signatures of Irish patriots remain intact on the cell walls, and it really is a piece of living history. Above one of the doorways an unknown wit has scratched the words “To Let”, although I feel that any estate agent would have great trouble renting out this accommodation, no matter how low the rent! ~ ~ Visitors are then given a half hour film history of the prison, before being led into a dark and damp corridor lined with equally dark, damp and tiny cells, which is a part of the original structure of the building. You can only imagine what it must have been like to be locked up in here. Even on the hottest summer day, it is wet and freezing cold, and this seeps into your very bones even after a very short period of time. What it must have been like being permanently locked up here during a dreary Irish winter doesn’t even bear contemplating. But when it was built in the late 1700’s, Kilmainham was actually looked upon as a model prison! Before the penal reforms of this period, the idea of imprisoning someone f
or a crime didn’t even exist, and convicted criminals were housed in unbelievably poor and stinking accommodation, until they were either hanged, flogged, or transported to the “colonies” as punishment. If you question some of the Guides, they may be inclined to reveal to you some of the reasons that the poor of Ireland found themselves locked away in this dungeon. Some of the “crimes” were of such a petty nature that today we would find it hard to fathom how anyone could actually be locked up for committing them. In 1860, two young boys of 10 and 11 were imprisoned for stealing a black rabbit from the zoo. Another was locked up for having bread and butter in his possession that was “believed” to be stolen. And as recently as the early 1900’s, a large number of men and young boys were locked away for having the bare faced audacity (as well as other parts!) as to go swimming in the buff in the Grand Canal during a particularly hot summer. Up until 1881, the prison was mixed, with both men and women being incarcerated. And for one year only during the 1870’s, women convicts were permitted to keep their babies with them. The jail’s register for this year records that 242 women and 16 babies were among its residents. From 1881 up until its closure as a general prison in 1910, Kilmainham was an all male institution, and from 1910 until it finally closed its gates for the last time in 1924, it was used purely as a military detention centre. ~ ~ The next stop on the tour is what is now called the “1916 Corridor”. You walk along a rickety catwalk fashioned from iron and wood, where the cells of the Irish Martyrs of the 1916 Rising are located. It was this rebellion, more than any other, which eventually led to Ireland gaining its independence from British rule. The patriots went ahead with their uprising in the forlorn hope that they would garner support from the
general Irish population, who they hoped would rise up in sympathy, but instead found themselves cornered in the General Post Office on what is now O’Connell Street, where they were eventually rooted out by the British by the simple and effective (if brutal) method of blasting the building to smithereens with cannon fire. From here, the wounded and bloodied men were taken to the confines of Kilmainham, where they were tortured and beaten, until eventually being led to the “stonebreaker’s yard”, where 14 of them were summarily executed by firing squad. In the case of Scotsman James Connolly it was almost a waste of bullets, as he was mortally wounded in any case, but the brave British soldiers still strapped him to a chair and shot him anyway. (sorry folks, my Republican sympathies are showing a bit!) But this was a step too far for the Irish public to swallow, and from the time the last gunshots rung out at Kilmainham, the eventual end of British rule in Ireland was forever sealed. The new Government of the Irish Free State didn’t learn very well from the mistakes of the British however, and were to go on to use Kilmainham as a detention centre for prisoners during the bloody Civil War that followed the partition of the country into two parts, North and South, during which former compatriots and brothers in arms Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins took opposite sides, and became mortal enemies. Four more Irish prisoners were to be executed in the now infamous stonebreaker’s yard in 1922 during the Civil War. I guarantee that no matter your preconceived notions about this period of Irish history, you will not leave this area without being moved by the experience. The tour guides are very knowledgeable, and will answer truthfully any questions you might have about this period. You will not fail to notice the Irish Tricolour that is prominently displayed on the wall of this yard, and the guides explain well t
he significance of its colours. Green to signify the Republic; orange representing the still segregated Unionist population in the North and their hero, the Dutch King William of Orange, and lastly (but not least) white which stands for peace. ~ ~ Of all the attractions that vie for your attention during a trip to the “Fair City” of Dublin, this is the one that will most likely linger in your memory the longest. If you want a true taste of the spirit of the Irish people, and a revealing insight into the countries bloody history, then Kilmainham Gaol will give you just that. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Address: Inchicore Road, Dublin 8 Telephone: 353 1 453 5984 Fax: 353 1 453 2037 Opening Hours: April to September. 9.30AM to 4.45PM daily. October to March. Monday to Friday 9.30AM to 4.00PM, closed Saturdays. Sundays 10.00AM to 4.45PM Admission: Adults €2.50. Children and Students €1.25. OAP’s €1.90. Family Ticket €6.35 Group rates are also available on request. Buses from City Centre: 51 (Aston Quay). 51A (Lower Abbey Street). 79 (Also Aston Quay) Taxi from City Centre: Approximately €7.50 (depending on traffic!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~