Results 1-7of 7 Reviews
London, United Kingdom
May 9, 2012
by Mr. Wonka
Brooklyn, New York
October 4, 2005
It was here at Kilmainheim Jail that some of Ireland’s most revered, and controversial, revolutionaries were held and ultimately executed. Thomas Russell, Robert Emmett, Wolfe Tone, and Michael Collins all did time in the jail, the design of which bucked the trend of that time period’s standard prison blueprint.
Kilmainheim had true reform goals in mind for its inmates, i.e. one prisoner per cell instead of throwing everyone—men, women, children, murderers, petty thieves—into one chaotic room that inspired anything but thoughts of penance. Of course, the great famine of 1880 brought those romantic ideals (well, romantic to the warden, I suppose) to a crashing halt. Because of a nightmarish potato season, food supply became so short that people were purposely committing crimes just so they could be guaranteed a meal every day behind bars. Daily rations were later cut to help discourage these desperate tactics.
And where did I learn all these scintillating factoids? Through hours of research in the Old Library at Trinity College? I’d like to say yes, but my crash-course in Irish history was graciously provided by my group’s tour guide, a genial fellow whose spot-on narrations were supplemented by references spoken in Gaelic, his native tongue. He even managed to make a Power Point presentation—given in the wedding chapel Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett were wed in on the eve of his execution—into a fascinating look at the jail’s history. I was especially keen on film footage from the aftermath of the 1916 Rising in Dublin.
The jail itself dangled precipitously close to the execution block in the early 20th century. After seeing its last inmates depart in 1924, Kilmainheim was nearly demolished in the 1940s before being saved by a small but determined group of volunteers who rightfully saw the landmark as an important part of Dublin’s history. After years of restoration work, the jail was handed over to the government in 1986, and today stands as one of the city’s must-see attractions.
Admission will set you back 5 euros for adults and 2 euros for students, and includes access to the jail’s award-winning museum on the main floor. Visitors can only tour the jail in groups under the supervision of a guide, except for in the East Wing cell block, a section often rented out for film shoots. It was here in the newest part of the prison that our guide informed us that the layout, one that allowed prison guards to quickly scan all the cells without changing their vantage point, was the foundation for designing our modern shopping malls. The only question now is which is worse: prisons or malls?
From journal Letting the Foam Settle in Dublin
December 14, 2004
We approached the prison and were immediately struck by the allegorical stone carving of serpent-like monsters writhing across the arched entrance. If that wasn’t a message about sinners being sent to Hades, I’m not sure what it was!
The guided tour started in the huge, open space -- the main body of the prison. The design is classic, covered by a spiral staircase and enclosed upper galleries. It was not hard to imagine the din that would have echoed round the place when it was full of restricted (and probably hungry) prisoners. The cells in this part of the prison seem airy and light, but when the door is closed behind you, you’ll realise how claustrophobic life would have been.
The upstairs museum displays numerous personal mementos and clothes of former inmates and comprehensive photographic and written records confirming that this prison was not used just for political internment but, during the 1800s, also the incarceration of minor felons. The "poor and needy" were imprisoned for trying to obtain food to keep their families from starvation and spent time inside for being drunk and disorderly, or for not having a permanent abode. And sentences were not light, as prisoners were subjected to hard labour for apparently trivial offenses such as trespassing on the gentry’s land.
The museum gives fascinating and chilling insight into Ireland’s social and political history, and it is hard not to begin to offer judgments about the role people played in the oppression of their fellow man. The dark, dank west wing, with its tiny, gloomy cells, is where the political internees were held, and it leads to the "stonebreakers’ yard" (the enforced exercise yard for prisoners), where 14 leaders of the Easter Rising were executed by firing squad. When we entered the yard, the light drizzle added extra atmosphere to the stories recounted by our guide. We heard about James Connolly, who was so ill that he was unable to stand and so was seated in a chair to be shot, and Joseph Plunkett, who was married in the prison two hours before he was shot. I’m not sure if that was a humanitarian act or plain vindictiveness. Perhaps you’ll have a view? The bullet holes in the prison yard wall were a stark reminder to those proceedings, and no matter what your views may be about the events, you will not fail to be moved. This is the more sinister side of Kilmainham and the role it played in Ireland’s political past.
It’s interesting to note that the last prisoner to be held was Eamon de Valera, who was Prime Minister and then President between 1932 and 1959.
From journal The Museums of Dublin
November 30, 2004
From journal Weekend in Dublin
May 12, 2012
Ireland's Capital City - Just One Day,
Ireland's Heritage Card - Your Ticket to History
Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
January 20, 2011
From journal In Dublins Fair City
January 29, 2006
We had a few minutes to wander through a museum dedicated to documenting the history of prisons in Dublin while we waited for our tour to start. I found it interesting that when Kilmainham Gaol was opened, Ireland was in the midst of famine. Sometimes people would commit crimes to get incarcerated on purpose, because as dismal and bleak as life could be inside the prison walls, the people could at least count on getting fed. My son, who is doing more and more debate in middle school, also enjoyed an interactive exhibit in which both sides of the death penalty debate were argued. After reading a history of the death penalty, its applications, and its abuses, he was able to vote on whether or not it should still be used in modern society. He liked registering his opinion.
A few minutes later, our wonderful tour guide came to the door to collect our group at the appointed time. He introduced himself in his Celtic tongue before he switched to English. Leading us into a chapel room where our group could sit down, he then started a fascinating lecture about the history of the jail that coincided with the history of Ireland. Though my family is of Irish descent, I am an American. I did not know much of the history presented, and I walked away with a much greater understanding of this island, its grievances against England, and its struggle to be free. I learned all about people like Charles Stewart Parnell, Joseph Plunkett, and James Connolly. In fact, I could have listened to the guide again because there was so much information that it was hard to absorb it all.
After our lecture, the guide led us through the narrow halls of the prison and into several cells where famous prisoners spent their days. We ended in the courtyard where men were shot by firing squads for their involvement in uprisings. In the cold winter air, I shivered against the biting wind as I looked at the black crosses marking the spots where some of the most famous died.
Inside the prison, I also found it interesting to see how the jails were arranged in a way that allowed the guards to better monitor their charges. This was done in accordance with a new sense of Victorian order as prisons were being reformed throughout Great Britain.
Bottom Line? If you like history, you will love this museum. Our son also enjoyed our time here, though I would not bring younger children. It was very interesting.
From journal Family Delights in Dublin