Imagine cells without windows, unbearably cold, unbearably cold, and particularly harsh prison conditions… Such is the Kilmainham Gaol prison, one of the most terrible prisons Europe has seen in recent centuries. And with good reason. Kilmainham Gaol has welcomed within its walls prisoners from all walks of life, unknown, as high-ranking historical figures who have shaped Irish history. Closed today and converted into a museum, the prison is now open to visitors and offers a poignant testimony to the living conditions to which its prisoners were subjected.
Opened in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol prison was at the time the most modern detention facility in the country. Its then newly constructed buildings had over 100 individual cells, as well as a courtyard where inmates could stroll during a few rare daily outings.
In spite of the apparent modernity of the prison, prison conditions were nevertheless extremely harsh: prisoners were locked up in unheated cells without windows.
Only a candle distributed every fortnight allowed them to light up, and their diet consisted only of soup, bread and milk… (Not much to say.) At the time, some of these prisoners were at risk of execution by hanging, as well as deportation to penal colonies in Australia. Offences recorded at the time ranged from simple begging to felony.
The Great Famine of 1845-1848, however, caused the prison to become overcrowded due to the numerous food thefts and begging by Irish citizens. A cell then had 5 inmates instead of one! And this in deplorable conditions (many prisoners suffered from diseases ranging from malnutrition to pneumonia…). Aware of this problem, the prison authorities decided in 1861 to build an East wing to the prison. This building, of a purely Victorian style, consisted of 96 new cells spread over 2 floors, each with a window.
The Easter Uprising in 1916 was, however, a troubled time for Dublin Prison: many of the men and women involved in the uprising were imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol, and 14 men were shot there between 3 and 12 May 1916. Among them were the main leaders of the movement, including Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett…
A few years later, the War of Independence (1919-1921) as well as the Civil War (1922-1924) led to the imprisonment of many political figures (including Eamon de Valera) until 1924, when Kilmainham Gaol prison was finally closed.
It was not until 1960 that a voluntary restoration committee decided to save the prison as a historical monument. After more than 30 years of restoration, the prison is now open to the public and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.
Kilmainham Gaol has held many political figures who fought for Ireland within his walls. Among them we can count:
Kilmainham Gaol is open for guided tours. You will have the opportunity to discover the prison cells, the main wing and the inner courtyard. The place is a place to shiver, and you will be able to identify with the prisoners and their difficult living conditions.
Your guide will show you a documentary about the place, and will deliver you precious secrets about the prison!
Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm