Kilmainham Gaol. Monument in Dublin, Ireland

Kilmainham Gaol

Monument in Dublin, Ireland

Kilmainham gaol Photo © Stefan Ray

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Kilmainham Gaol

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Scaled Replica - Kilmainham Gaol
Scaled Replica - Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by unknown
Kilmainham Gaol is located in Kilmainham in Dublin, Ireland, and used to be a prison. It has been a museum since 1980. The former prison played a huge role in the history of Ireland, because it was where a lot of leaders of the Irish rebellion against the Brits were incarcerated and even executed. Executions were done by the British and later, also by the Irish Free State (Wikipedia
	Article). Kilmainham Gaol is the largest unoccupied prison in Europe.

Nowadays, it provides a fascinating insight into what life was like inside this fortress of punishment and imprisonment from its opening in 1796 to its closing in 1924. The prison is associated with people like Charles Stewart Parnell (Wikipedia Article), Robert Emmett, and Eamon DeValera (Wikipedia
	Article), all heroes of Irish resistance in the course of a couple of centuries.

Kilmainham Gaol
	(Jail) - Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) - Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by Sean Munson


Kilmainham Gaol was first called New Gaol when it opened in 1796. Initially, the front of the gaol was the place where public hangings took place, but the number of hangings – public and private – decreased significantly in the 19th century. They did still happen though, as is shown by the small hanging cell that was built inside the prison in 1891. This cell is situated on the first floor between the West and East wing. Men and women weren't separated and even children were incarcerated with the adults. A cell would sometimes be occupied by five prisoners who were given one candle for light and warmth that had to last two weeks. Many prisoners – including children as young as seven years old – were arrested for theft. People who committed more severe crimes were generally sentenced to transportation to Australia or executed. In addition to true criminals, Kilmainham Gaol also held political prisoners and rebels.

In 1924, Kilmainham Gaol was closed as a prison by the new Irish Free State. Originally, there weren’t any plans to conserve the building as a historic monument. The building was mostly regarded as a place of suffering, oppression, and injustice. The gaol’s potential as a national monument was also gravely undermined by the execution of four republican prisoners by the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War. They were shot in the yard.

In 1936, the Irish government even considered demolishing the building. Luckily, the price for that was too high. In the late 1930s, the interest in the former prison increased and the first step towards preservation was taken when the National Graves Association proposed to designate the site as a museum and memorial to the Easter Rising (Wikipedia
	Article) of 1916. It took until the 1950s before concrete plans for restoration were developed, due to the Second World War and mere lack of action.

The first group of sixty volunteers started clearing vegetation, trees, fallen stones, etcetera from the prison in 1960. By 1962, the restoration of the Victorian section was almost complete and the symbolic yard where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed was cleared. The entire site was finished in 1971 with the re-opening of the chapel.

Now, Kilmainham Gaol is home to a wonderful museum on Irish nationalism and history. Although the prisoners are long gone, the building is now filled with history.

Inside a cell -
	Kilmainham Gaol
Inside a cell - Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by unknown

Visiting Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol is located in Dublin and lies a short distance from the Luas stop on Suir Road. Attractions in the gaol include a huge and detailed exhibition on the prison’s political and penal history and a guided tour. You can only get into the prison by guided tour, but it is absolutely worth it. You will see the cells where legendary rebellion leaders, such as Parnell and DeValera where held, the chapel where Joseph Plunkett married Grace a couple of hours before he was executed, the prison yard and the large newer cell block.

Entry tickets cost €6 ($6.90) for adults, €4 ($4.60) for groups and seniors, and €2 ($2.30) for children. The average length of a visit is an hour-and-a-half, but, as it is a much visited site, visitors should come early or be prepared to wait their turn.

Similar Landmarks

Other major and historically significant museums in the world are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, Port Arthur (Wikipedia Article) in Tasmania, Robben Island off the coast of South Africa, the Tower of London in London, notorious Devil’s Island (Wikipedia Article) in French Guiana, and Alcatraz in San Francisco.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Dec 27, 2014

Pictures of Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol. Photo by unknown


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