Kilmainham Gaol Museum is a lesser known attraction in Dublin, but a visit should absolutely be at the top of your list. The jail, which held men, women, and children for over 100 years, holds a fascinating and devastating story in the history in Ireland.
It opened in 1796 and held everyone from petty criminals, children caught stealing during the famine, and political prisoners who were key to Ireland’s fight for independence. The jail closed in 1924 and was preserved as a national monument in the 1960’s. The restoration committee was a private committee, and much of the money they made for restorations came from allowing filming in the jail, including the original Italian Job. The State took over ownership in 1986 and is run by the Office of Public Works. Most recently, Paddington 2 was filmed there.
You can only visit via timed, guided tour. The tour starts by meeting in the courtroom within the jail.
The jail is old and confusing and not the safest. You could easily get lost or hurt if you wandered off from the guide. The stairs are so worn that you almost slide down when you step on them. People with mobility challenges would have a hard time with the tour.
Before walking through the cells, you stop in the chapel and hear fascinating stories of prisoners. Easter Rising of 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett married Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett here hours before he was executed by firing squad at the jail.
The poor conditions that the prisoners experienced are evident as you walk though the jail. Rooms designed for one person held multiple people. It was really sad to think about how many people were forced into these cramped quarters because they were starving and felt they had no choice except stealing. I’m thankful I’ve never experienced such desperation and I hope I never do.
There’s a beautiful painting of the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child on the wall of one of the cells, painted by Grace Plunkett, the wife of Joseph Plunkett. After his execution, she served three months in the jail, during the Civil War.
Prisoners were executed by firing squad. Many famous revolutionaries were executed there, including James Connolly, who was on his deathbed at the Royal Hospital after a leg wound. He was transported via ambulance to the jail for the execution. He was so close to death that he was unable to stand, so they tied him to a chair for the execution.
Following your tour of the jail is a visit to the museum and store. The museum has artifacts from when it was a functioning jail. The whole thing was so sad, so I didn’t want to hang around any longer than I already did.
Despite to sobering reality of life in the jail, it is an absolute must-do in Dublin. Tickets sell out quick, so book tickets at soon as you can. Pro tip: they release canceled tickets every morning at 9:15 am. That’s how we got day of tickets.
Need a beer after reading this? So do I.
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