Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison in Kilmainham, Dublin, that was used by the British to imprison and execute many Irish revolutionaries.
Learn more about the history of Ireland in Kilmainham Gaol
History of Kilmainham Gaol
In 1976, Kilmainham Gaol was first built and called as the 'New Gaol'. The name was to distinguish Kilmainham Gaol with the older prison that is located a few hundred metres from the present site. It was then given the official name of County of Dublin Gaol, and was run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin. At the beginning until around 1820s, executions that were done with public hanging took place at the front of the prison. After that, very few hangings, both public or private, took place at Kilmainham. In 1891, a hanging cell was built inside the prison on its first floor between the east wing and the west wing.
The Prisoners of Kilmainham Gaol
Each cell in Kilmainham Gaol was roughly 28 square metres in area, filled with 5 prisoners inside. The cell was cold and dark, and each cell was given a candle for 2 weeks. The prisoners of Kilmainham Gaol ranged from children to women and men. The youngest prisoner was a seven year old child. Some of the children were arrested for petty theft, and many of the adult prisoners were transported to Australia. In the report from 1809, male prisoners were given iron bedsteads while female prisoners were laying on straw on the flags in the cells and common halls. In 1830, 30 female cells were added to the west wing of the Gaol because of the overcrowded cells. However, not a while later, the prison was overwhelmed again because the number of prisoners increased due to the Great Famine.
Kilmainham Gaol after the Independence
After the Irish Government got its independence, the Kilmainham Gaol was decommissioned from its role as a prison in 1924. The Government also shows no interest of making the Gaol as a monument to the struggle for national independence because of its dark history as a site of oppression and suffering. Kilmainham Gaol was also not classified as a location of national memory because during the Civil War in Ireland, first four republican prisoners executed by the Free State government were shot in the prison yard. The prison board was considering to reopened it and used it again as a prison, but the idea was then abandoned in 1929. The government also thought to demolish the building in 1936, but the thought was also abandoned because of the price of the undertaking.
The deterioration of Kilmainham Gaol
In the late 1930s, some ideas to make Kilmainham Gaol as a museum and memorial to the 1916 Easter Rising appeared. The Commissioners of Public Works did not have any objection, though the idea was rejected by the Department of Education. The proposal was then laid to rest because of the World War II. After the war ended, the Commissioners of Public Works then conducted an architectural survey to the prison and found out that the building was in a ruinous condition. However, the proposal still got no reaction. In 1953, the Department of the Taoiseach reconsidered the proposal to establish a museum at the Gaol site, but no advance was made and the prison continued to deteriorate.
The restoration of Kilmainham Gaol
In 1958, a restoration society for the Kilmainham Gaol was made by Lorcan C.G. Leonard. The society planned to restore the prison and built a museum using voluntary labour and donated materials. The society was then supported by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Dublin Corporation. The Irish Government was then pushed to take action to preserve the site after given the pressure by the National Graves Association and the Old IRA Literary and Debating Society. The detailed plan of the restoration then came up in February 1960, and the formal handing of the prison key was done in May in the same year. The work of restoration began in the same time by sixty volunteers and completed in 1971, when the Kilmainham Gaol was finally re-opened to the public, with its building has been reroofed and refloored and with the altar reconstructed.
Kilmainham Gaol in the present days
Kilmainham Gaol nowadays is open for public, though a guided tour is needed to visit the site. In the prison, the visitor will experience a dramatic and realistic insight and have a taste of what is was like to have been prisoned in one of the cells between 1796 when it opened and 1924 when it closed. The prison is also used for temporary exhibitions and has appeared in many movies, tv series, and a music video of U2 with the title 'A Celebration'.
How to Get Tickets?
Tickets can be bought on site, or by booking them online for cheaper price. It is recommended to purchase the ticket in advance because usually the Kilmainham Gaol is very crowded with visitors and the tickets are limited. For those who come in a group of 10 or more people also need to book the tour in advance with the maximum of 35 people.
How To Get Around?
To get around, you will have to go by foot by following the guided tour. The duration of the tour will take approximately 60 minutes.
What Should I Wear?
Do wear long-sleeved tops and trousers or layered clothes since parts of the prison are quite cold, especially on winter. Wear also comfortable walking shoes since you're going to walk a lot inside the place.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Kilmainham Gaol is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is also better not to visit in summer since that is the high season for tourists to avoid the crowd.
Will I Need a Guide?
You can enter the Kilmainham Gaol by guided tour only. Be noted that children under 18 that are unaccompanied will not be able to enter the museum.
How To Get There?
If you want to go to the Kilmainham Gaol by public transport, you can take bus number 13, 40, 69, or 79. You can also use the red line of the tram and stop at Suir Road.
It's suggested to not bring children here since the tour is long, it's usually cold, and the violent history might not be suitable for them. You need to use cash only because they don't accept debit or credit card. Since it's located in the city's edge, there aren't many restaurants, cafes, or other sites in the neighbourhood.