No Surrender

12 Apr

For the past three months I have learned so much about the history of Ireland. From the time of the Famine, to the 1916 Rising to the War of Independence, I have absorbed so much information about this countries history. Of all the history I heard about, I never really learned about the incarceration of prisoners throughout that time.


Kilmainham Gaol was opened in 1796 as the County Gaol for Dublin. From that moment until the last prisoners were released in 1924, it held some of the key people in the fight for Irish independence. From looking at the prison and starting in the West Wing, you can see how the different styles of imprisonment throughout history. Starting in the enclosed floors with small cells with little light. This then turned into more gallery style imprisonment to make it easier to monitor by guards. Finally seeing the east wing with the huge gallery style that could be monitored by only two guards.

Another interesting aspect of the prison was the change in people that it held over time, from petty street criminals to the political criminals of the early 20th century. During the time of the Famine from 1845-1850 there became a rise in the number of prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol. In 1850, 9,000 people found there was through the gates. I found it to be very interesting that a large number of the prisoners we women and children. During the time of the Famine it because illegal to beg for food and more people began to steal which many children were forced to do. The youngest known child to be sent to the prison was 5 years old for stealing a metal chain.

During the time of the 1916 Rising Kilmainham Gaol held many of the political criminals of the time. Following Easter Monday 1916, when Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army seized the General Post Office, Kilmainham Gaol was reopened to hold many of the people who took part in the Rising. Fourteen prisoners were executed between May 3rd and 12th for their part in the Rising. Many of them had were important players in the planning and execution of the Rising. One of which was Joseph Plunkett. I found his story to be very interesting. The fact that he was allowed to marry his fiancée, Grace Gifford, in the Chapel in the prison the night before his execution and get to spend ten minutes with her that night was an incredibly sad story. The story shows people dedication to their cause during the Rising, in the ten minutes that they had together Gifford later said that little was said between the two of them.

The prison was once again used to during the time of the Civil War. Kilmainham Gaol was taken over by the Free State Army and during this period seventy-seven Republicans were executed during the Civil war, the first taking place in 1916. During an eight-month span in 1923 the prison even held over 300 woman and girls between the ages of twelve and seventy. The final prisoner, Eamon de Valera, later Taoiseach and President of Ireland, was released from the Gaol in 1924.

I think it is incredible the history that lies between the walls of the Gaol. From the different types of prisoners it had throughout time, to different ways they executed people, going from public execution to private, all are important parts of this nations history. The people that were put to death there died doing what they believed was right, fighting for their freedom. I think it is simply an amazing piece of history that was restored and I am happy I was able to go before I left.


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