Daniel in Dublin – Kilmainham Gaol
Ok, I must admit I’m a bit embarrassed it took me so long to do this one. I’m from Dublin and have lived here over half my life but this was my first time visiting Kilmainham Gaol. I was very excited about this one, everyone who does it says how brilliant is and I agree, it’s fantastic.
Before the tour began we were ushered into an old courtroom inside the Gaol where we awaited our guide. Sitting in that room one could only imagine how the people would have felt waiting to hear what their sentence was going to be. We were then met by our tour guide Dave and the tour was underway.
The first room we were brought to was the old church chapel. We took our seats on the pews and Dave proceeded to give us the first bit of history. One thing he told us was that this is where one of the Irish rebels, Joseph Plunkett, married Grace Gifford the day before being executed for his participation in the Easter Rising. He said the newly weds were only allowed to spend 10 minutes together in Joseph’s cell accompanied by British soldiers but due to the severity and weight of the situation they just sat in complete silence the entire 10 minutes. This story was of course made even more famous in the song Grace by The Dubliners.
We were then led down the narrow corridor of the west wing. This section of the prison was freezing cold as there were no windows along the corridor so the cells along the corridor had little protection from cold air. The reason for this is that due to overcrowding in the prison they wanted as much cold air ventilation as possible to try combat the rampant diseases that were spreading among prisoners.
The prison was initially intended for ordinary criminals, thieves, murderers, rapists, mentally ill… yep, if you were mentally ill you were thrown in jail, as were beggars. The mass overcrowding came with the political prisoners and these are the people who’s names you may be more familiar with. The next section we went to held the cells of the likes of Padraig Pearse, who read the proclamation of the new Irish Republic outside the G.P.O on O’Connell St, and Countess Markievicz one of the main female leaders and activists involved in the 1916 rising.
Next, we were brought to what our tour guide Dave referred to as the “picturesque” part of the Gaol, the east wing. I recognised this section straight away from the film In The Name Of The Father with Daniel Day Lewis. Gerry Conlon!! Dave told us that the idea behind the design of this section was that all the cells can be seen from the centre and the window above offered an additional level of misery to the inmates as they could see “heaven” above while they were in hell below.
Eamon de Valera was one of the prisoners who resided in this part of the prison. Dave gave us free roam of the downstairs of this area, some of the cells were open so we could look inside. Many of the cells had carvings and markings made by the prisoners at the time and one in particularly really hit me. Above the door the prisoner had carved “Carndonagh Hotel”, which is a beautiful town in Co. Donegal. This made me very sad and very happy at the same time because I imagine the hell that was these people’s lives yet amidst all that this person still managed to find some humour in it.
Finally, we were brought to the courtyard which any Irish person will know is where many of the rebels of the 1916 rising were executed by firing squad becoming martyrs for the cause and changing the course of Irish history forever.
After the tour you are free to explore the wonderful prison museum where you can read and learn more about the history of Kilmainham Gaol. The tour itself was absolutely brilliant albeit very heavy and upsetting but definitely worth a visit. Our tour guide Dave was excellent, really knowledgeable and approachable and really made the tour what it was. I’ll definitely be recommending Dave and Kilmainham Gaol to everyone.