Kilmainham Gaol Museum Dublin
The brand new Kilmainham Gaol Museum Dublin was opened in 1796 and was one of the most modern jails Ireland had ever seen. A lot of prisoners from Kilmainham, 4000 to be exact, where sent to convict colonies in Austraila. As well as housing many convicts that would later be transported, the jail also contained many of Ireland’s revolutionaries. The first well-known political prisoner to enter Kilmainham was Henry Joy McCracken, the founder of United Irishmen. Robert Emmet, also of the United Irishmen, would later lead the 1803 Rising and be thrown into the Gaol. Like many of the prisoners, he would be executed that same year.
These hangings would take place at the main entrance of the Gaol, for all to see. This jail was notirous for throwing any criminal even young children into the cells. It wasn’t until 1821 that they stopped publicly hanging women. When the famine of 1845 came the jail experienced a huge increase of the intake of prisoners. This directly correlated with the famine as women and children began to illegally beg and steal food just to survive. Without a care, as many as 5 people were forced into cells designed for one. Up until 1881, a large portion of prisoners were women until the jail became male only.
Just reading this information really gives you an idea of how brutal the British were ruling over the Irish. In 1881, Charles Stewart Parnell, a member of the Irish Parliment was thrown in the jail for a year just because he had opposed the British Land Act. Tensions were increasing. Four days after Charles was released two British officials were assassinated in Phoenix Park. It would later be discovered that it was committed by the revolutionary group “The Invincibles” which was related to the previously ousted Fenians. Five of the members would later be hanged at Kilmainham Goal Museum Dublin.
In 1910 the British took over the Gaol to use it as a detention centre for political prisoners. Six years later, on Easter Monday, the Easter Rising would occur. Members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army took other important buildings in the city and declared The Republic of Ireland. After a week the coalition weakened and then surrendered to the British. The Gaol was reopened so that men and women who were involved could be contained. Fourteen of the main leaders would be executed the following May in the hard labour yard inside Kilmainham Gaol Museum Dublin.
It wasn’t until 1924 that jail would be closed for good, finally following The Republic of Ireland’s independence from Britain and Northern Ireland. It took the war of independence and a civil war to achieve that status.
Being in the Kilmainham Gaol is quite eerie. You see and feel the conditions that these people, mostly petty thieves or people fighting for freedom from Britain, had to live in. There were no windows so the cold air easily swept in. Prisoners were left with nothing more but the clothes on their backs. As you walk through, the cells of the leaders of the Easter Uprising are labelled. It’s hard to imagine a time not so long ago where you could be executed for differing in political views of your overseers.
You can venture out to the stone breakers yard and see the cross that marks the spot where 14 young men were shot down. It’s so bizarre to walk through a place that has seen so much death and atrocity. You’re standing in a spot where unfortunate history played out. It’s hard to think that back in those days it would have been dark, dingy and had bodies hanging out front of the very door that tourists use to enter.
None the less, I really enjoyed visiting the Kilmainham Gaol because of it’s important history. Being a Scot I’m not unfamiliar with the brutalness that the Brits had brought to the world. In a positive light, it shows human perseverance to win over evil and never give up, even if it means losing their lives. The leaders of the Easter Rising were willing to pay the price in hopes that their fellow people would someday know freedom from the harsh grasp of the English.
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