on May 12, 2012
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the 11 OPW (Office of Public Works) Heritage sites that we visited during our 15 days in Ireland. It was like saving the best for last!Kilmainham Gaol was a fully functional prison in Dublin City until 1924, shortly after Ireland gained independence from British rule (1922). Built in 1796, the building has been fully restored and is now open to visitors who want to take a look back into a very dark time in Irish history. The timing of our visit was especially sobering given that week was the 96th anniversary of the execution of 14 rebels involved in the famous Easter Rising rebellion against England. Almost all other leaders of prior Irish rebellions had also been imprisoned here, making its place in history significant in terms of all of the past civil wars and their eventual independence.This prison served not only men, but also women and children. Was you walk through the halls and see the various cells throughout the guided tour, you are reminded of the harsh reality of living as a convicted criminal. It would be understandable to think you'd be better off dead than alive.Because the tour is guided, visitors are given a tour time upon their arrival to the reception desk. We had about 30 minutes, during which time folks are encouraged to view the various exhibits in the two floors immediately adjacent to the prison itself. There was a lot of very interesting items including one display case of several vintage locks and locking mechanisms used there. Another exhibit discussed how Kilmainham was one of the first prisons to incorporate the taking of mug shots during initial prison processing, dating back to the founding of the camera in the 1860's.The actual tour begins with outstanding film from the early 20th century, depicting what life in this jail was like. It also chronicled the Easter Rising rebellion and the role the prison played during that time in Ireland's history. After that brief orientation and some additional information from our guide, we set off for the walking tour.Our guide was clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the Kilmainham Gaol and the legacy left over time. She told stories of various high profile and notable residents here including one of the Easter Rising rebels who was permitted to marry on the day he was later executed. Years later, his widow was also imprisoned at Kilmainham. An artist, Grace Gifford was arrested and sent to this prison for three months due to her involvement in anti-Irish combat.In the yard where the Easter Rising rebels were executed is a memorial with the 14 names. With this week's anniversary there were flowers laid there and the Flag of Ireland was at half-staff, where it would remain through the final day of the execution week (May 12th).The main staircase is a familiar landmark today, thanks largely to the number of films that have been shot on location here . . . probably most notably the academy award nominated "In The Name of the Father" (1993) staring Daniel Day Lewis. My good friend Dianne immediately recognized it as such from photos I had posted on Facebook after our return home.There is an admission to tour this site. If you are planning to visit more than three or four, however, it is in your best interest to buy the OPW Heritage Pass that allows for admission to all of their sites for one low price. Check out their website at: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/Info/HeritageCards/ .
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