Kilmainham Gaol (Or: Another piece of Irish History)

On Friday Marco and I went to Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison which closed in 1924 after the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence. It was restored in the 1960s after suffering from disrepair and disuse. Unfortunately the East Wing was closed for renovation at the time (we were told it would actually be re-opening in a few weeks) although this closure was reflected in the discounted ticket price. A ticket price that was definitely affordable. I think it was €6, although the website says €7. The tour lasts about 45 to 50 minutes. My biggest advice is to arrive early right when it opens at 9.30 – We got there around 9.40 and took the tour around 10.00. When we left the next tour was full (about 30 people maximum) with about 15 people waiting outside.

Altar at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin

Above: the altar at the jail. Here you see a brief presentation and hear about the history of the jail from your tour guide. Do you see the barely visible white outline of a door behind the altar? It’s painted over and no longer in use. Remember that for the end of the blog post.Cell door at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin

One of the jail doors. The doors were made of the same material as shields back in the medieval ages, a leather mixed with tar to reinforce it.

Walkway at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin

One of the walkways in the old part of the jail. What we were standing on was the same as the floor above – wooden reinforcement on the left side and iron bridges (not quite visible but look for the iron bridge near the middle – the grid iron directly above wasn’t the walkable part) that lead to each door.

Note that Kilmainham Gaol was one of the first modern prisons. Before this, prisoners were generally locked up 25 to 30 in one large room, women and children with the men. Unfortunately this had the side effect of making it a place to learn the “tricks of the trade” as it were and commit more crimes. As Kilmainham Gaol’s goal was rehabilitation, each prisoner was in their own room with about 180 cells in total.

In theory. This was no longer possible during the Great Potato Famine in the 1840s. During those 5 years people there were on average 8 people in each cell. One cell still containing only one bed, table, and chair. With no plumbing. You can imagine the amount of disease here. With that said, a lot of people (women and children) committed crimes just to get into the prison – at least here you were guaranteed one meager meal per day. Better than on the outside.

Outside area at Kilmainham Gaol in DublinDoor in the general “exercise” area leading outside the jail. Exercise was mainly everyone walking in a circle, heads down looking at your feet. This was unfortunately also the home of the 1916 Easter Rising executions.

Remember that door behind the altar mentioned in the first photo? If you were scheduled to be executed you first visited the chapel to receive your last rites. Then you walked through that door to come to this area where you were executed.

Cross at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin One of the two crosses in the exercise area. The matching one was on the other side of the yard. One cross (not pictured) was placed for the death of 13 of the 14 men during the 1916 Easter Rising. The cross pictured above was placed to commemorate the death of James Connolly.

His death was particularly shocking as he had been gravely wounded during the rising and was expected to die within a few days regardless, likely from gangrene due to an un-amputated limb. Still, he was taken from the hospital to Kilmainham in an ambulance to be executed at the cross above, opposite from where the other executions took place. Possibly it was right next to the gate so that the ambulance did not have to go far. At the moment of execution he was too weak to stand and thus had to be tied to a chair before being shot. It was his death, particularly the manner of his death, that really swayed public support for the cause (support that had started to grow with the deaths of the other 13 men).

And that is your history for today!


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