This prison in which Irish rebels were held during Ireland's long struggle to break away from Great Britain was one of my favorite attractions in Dublin. Our bus driver advised that if we were on limited time, this was the one place we shouldn't skip, so we hopped off the bus and went inside. Admission was very reasonable--less than $10.
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.