Our first, and to date only, visit to Dublin took place over a long weekend when we found an unbeatable deal. Given the brief time in the city and the fact we hadn’t been there before, we had a very hectic and compressed schedule. One museum/landmark I’m glad we did not miss was Kilmainham Gaol.
After leaving the obligatory Guinness tour, we decided to walk to Kilmainham. That wouldn’t have been a problem had we known where we were going. We did not. All we had was a ridiculously not-to-scale tourist map to lead the way replete with cartoon images. Not helpful. Add to that the fact it was unseasonably cold and windy and we had a very long and grumpy walk. Luckily we fought our instincts to turn around, otherwise we would have missed what turned out to be our favorite site.
After you pay for your tour ticket, you are led to a museum detailing the average life and conditions of prisoners in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is a good one, but certainly not the main focus of the visit. Luckily tours run pretty often, depending on time of year, so your wait in the museum holding area shouldn’t be too long.
The tour takes you through the Gaol courtyards, hallways and cells, all the time led by an extremely knowledgeable volunteer guide. The history of Kilmainham is a dark and bloody one and yet it holds a great deal of meaning for the people of Ireland.
When Kilmainham opened in 1796, it was lauded as a new style of jail representative of Enlightenment ideals. Unfortunately, throughout its history, Kilmainham fell well short of this noble goal. Men, woman and even children were incarcerated here, sometimes up to 5 in a cell. Malnourishment and death were common and the lucky ones were shipped off to Australia.
However, the Gaol is probably best known for the role it played in the political history of Ireland. Many leaders of the various Irish rebellions were held and executed in Kilmainham, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The visit here can be an emotional one, but is vital to learning more about the history of Ireland and understanding the fierce determination of the Irish soul.