The birth of a country is rarely without violence and wherever there are heros and celebrations there are victims and tragedy too. Much of the darker side of the history of Ireland’s birth took place in this Gaol, and the tour presents the unvarnished truth. It is an unsettling experience in many ways and there is often ambiguity about who was hero and who villain. However for anyone with even a passing interest in Irish history, it is an unmissable place.
The Prison Building
Kilmainham was first opened as a Gaol in 1798 but the current building dates to 1864 and is typical of many Victorian prisons, with a 3 story high space surrounded by catwalks onto which the cells open. It is architecturally very impressive and one of only a few intact examples of its type. If it looks a little bit familiar, that may be because it has featured in several movies, most notably ‘The Italian Job’.
Rebellions and the Civil War
The gaol is woven into the Irish history of resistance to English occupation – prisoners included leaders of various rebellions between 1798 and 1867 and, most famously, of the 1916 rising which led to Irish freedom. Subsequently those on the ‘wrong’ side of the Civil War which followed found themselves incarcerated and executed by their fellow Irish men. This is a period of Irish history which even now arouses controversy and passion and after a visit to Kilmainham you will understand why.
One of the more tragic stories associated with the gaol is that of Joseph Plunkett, a leader of the 1916 rising, who married Grace Gifford in the small prison chapel just seven hours before his execution. Grace was later imprisoned here too, and one of the paintings she did on her cell wall can still be seen.
Kilmainham is a popular attraction and lines can be long. However we can speed our guests though with careful timing and the right tickets.