Related Posts with Thumbnails

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Exploring Dublin: Kilmainham Gaol

When we first started thinking about exploring Dublin on our way home from Spain, people who had been to Dublin immediately began giving us suggestions for places to visit, and Kilmainham Gaol was near the top of everyone's list, after the Guinness Storehouse

The East Wing

Once a working prison that held and executed many members of the Irish Revolution of 1916, the jail is now a museum that offers guided tours to Dublin's visitors. 

It has been the site of many movies as well, including The Italian Job, Michael Collins, and In the Name of the Father. 

According to the tour guides, Kilmainham was a pioneer in the prison system, becoming the first jail to strive for less crowded, more hygienic accommodations. 

During its early years, debtors were more than half of the prison's population, with the others incarcerated for drunkenness, begging, stealing, and prostitution. Many of the prisoners were en route to Australia; over 4,000 were sent through Kilmainham. Even children could be arrested and sent to jail for petty theft; the youngest on record was seven. 

When it first opened, Kilmainham conditions were harsh, with no glass and no lights. Prisoners were given one small candle every two weeks for light and heat, and those convicted of murder and violent robbery were hanged on the gallows outside the front of the prison doors. 
Above the balcony, above the doors, on either side of the ornamental design, 
are the pieces used in the hanging of prisoners, 
which was all but stopped and moved inside to a small cell in 1891.

In the later years of the Irish Famine, the prison saw significant overcrowding, with five or more in one cell. According to our tour guide, many saw the jail as a place of refuge, where, at least, they were guaranteed one meal a day, and the temporary inconvenience was better than starving to death. 

The East Wing (pictured above) was state of the art when it opened in 1862. Prison administrators practiced silence and separation, keeping prisoners mostly isolated in the hopes that in their silence, they would read their Bible and repent for their sins. 

Sample cell

Guards could monitor inmates via catwalks that allowed them greater supervisory access. 

For their part in the 1916 Easter Rising, several revolutionaries were sent to Kilmainham Gaol for their part in the rebellion. 

Site in the prison yard where the Rebels were executed. 

Fourteen men were executed by firing squad, including Joseph Plunkett, who was given permission to marry his love in the prison chapel, hours before his execution. 

The prison chapel where Joseph married Grace. 

Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford Plunkett

Joseph's marriage proposal letter. 

Grace, herself, was imprisoned at Kilmainham for rebel rousing.

Grace's cell. 

She painted on the wall inside her cell. 

Women, generally, were subject to harsher conditions. For example, men were given bed stands, but women had to sleep on straw on the floor. The women's area, in the older west wing, started and remained an overcrowded area.

Peering through a peephole of a cell. 

Cell blocks of the West Wing. 

The remaining prisoners were granted amnesty in 1917, after an about-face in public opinion, following worldwide condemnation of the executions. They were given a hero's welcome and live on today as Irish crusaders and icons of Irish nationalism. 

Some prisoners, like Charles Stewart Parnell, were incarcerated due to their political stance. Parnell rejected Britain's Land Act of 1881 and was housed in Kilmainham for seven months. His stay was far less oppressive than his poor compadres. 

This illustration, in Parnell's cell, shows Parnell receiving visitors in his suite, 
which included a sitting room and a fireplace, in addition to his sleeping quarters. 

If you are visiting Dublin, put Kilmainham Gaol on your list of places to visit. The tour guides are animated and knowledgeable and bring the tour to life. 

Access to Kilmainham Gaol by Guided Tour Only. The tour lasts about an hour. Arrive early: tickets are first come, first served, and as of the time we went, they could not be booked in advance. The Gaol is on tour bus lines and is about 3.5 kilometers from the city center. 

Have you ever been to Kilmainham Gaol? What did you think?


  1. Leanne@crestingthehillDecember 15, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    it's funny how the class system even made itself felt in jails! The love story of Joseph and Grace was really sweet but sad in its own way

  2. This is a possible on our Dublin stop next year - we have lots to try to fit in that day!

  3. What history! I can't imagine having to live in those conditions.

  4. Wow thats so cool! I can see why everyone recommends it!

  5. Thank you, Darcy. We had a great tour. It's well worth it.

  6. I can't either, and to think that some people opted for it in lieu of starving to death is dreadful.

  7. Are you there for only one day? It will be a challenge. Trinity College and the Book of Kells is also a must see.

  8. Many of the prisoners had a very intriguing story. It was one of the highlights of our trip, for sure. Thanks for stopping by, Leanne.