Dublin is full of historic buildings but one of the most striking is Kilmainham Gaol.
Opened in 1796, the former prison has seen much of the darker side of Irish history and was the site of numerous executions, including the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916.
Today the gaol is a museum and one of Dublin’s most popular visitor attractions. Located just over two miles from the city centre, it provides a fascinating and tragic glimpse into what life was like in Ireland over the centuries.
Visitors to the gaol can join one of the regular tours, which take you through the dark, narrow corridors of the former prison, into jail cells and out into the yard where public executions once took place. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the gaol’s past and the lives – and deaths – of many of its inmates, and their role in the political history of Ireland.
Despite being part of a tour group, it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to be incarcerated in one of the tiny cells: how cold it would have been in winter, in the days before glass windows were installed; or how fetid the air would have been in the days of the famine, when poverty became criminalised and the corridors were lined with prisoners, too many even to fit into the cells – men, women, children, all locked up together.
The gaol also houses an extensive museum that explores not only its role in Irish history, but the part it played in the development of the prison system and the monitoring of inmates. Visitors are encouraged to explore the exhibits while waiting for the tour to begin and much of what you find there is also addressed by the guide once you enter the main prison building.
Kilmainham Gaol provides a fascinating but moving glimpse into Dublin’s past and is well worth visiting. However, it’s worth remembering that for much of 2015 the gaol is undergoing major renovations (as everywhere we visited in Dublin actually seemed to be) and some parts of the building won’t be accessible. This means that the cost of a tour has dropped from seven Euros to four. Although large parts of the prison aren’t available, it’s still more than worth a visit.