This prison was created in 1796 as part of the Victorian prison reform efforts.
You begin your journey at the Gaol in the chapel, where they show you a brief film about the gaol and the Victorian prison reform movement. The tour guide also begins to tell you the history of certain prisoners.
Access to daylight was one of the major points of reform when this prison was built. Before this, people would essentially be locked in dungeons with no light. Kilmainham Gaol was officially closed in 1923 by the government of the Irish Free State. It lay abandoned until the late 1960s when citizens began to raise funds and volunteer their skills to restore the Gaol and open it as a museum. It opened as a museum in 1971.
As they guide you through the prison, the tour guide gives you heaps and heaps of information about the prison itself, the history of Ireland and some of the more famous people who were held (and/or executed) here. It is honestly amazing to me how much information they told me in the hour-long tour.
Executions weren’t uncommon in Kilmainham Gaol. Originally they were public hangings, with the gallows being erected over the front door of the Gaol. After public hangings were stopped, they would hang them inside the prison. Some prisoners, who had participated in the Easter Rising 1916, were even executed by firing squad and given a “soldier’s death”. Sadly, part of the Gaol is under renovation until at least the end of the year. The good news, is they are giving seriously reduced entrance fees (€4). I’ll be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce this. I think it’s “KILL-main-ham” but each time I attempted to pronounce it, I was corrected. The second word is definitely pronounced like “jail”, so there’s that.
After the tour was over, we were given all the time we wanted (until closing time, that is) to look at the artifacts in the museum. These range from prisoner arts and crafts to letters from prisoners.
Kilmainham Gaol is located on Inchicore Road. I asked my hostel which bus to take and then the bus driver was kind enough to tell me when to get off (and give me a few walking directions)! I’m very glad that I decided to visit the Gaol as it gave such an interesting way to look at Irish history.
Have you been to Kilmainham Gaol? Or another prison museum?