Kilmainham Jail (Brianna Sedor)

2 Dec

As my time in Dublin is coming to an end I have realized that I haven’t really done anything “touristy”. After asking a few locals and hearing about it in my Irish Life and Cultures class I decided on the Kilmainham jail. I went on a tour and it was really a great experience. To show the readers of this blog how in depth and interesting the tour, everything in this blog post is information I heard during the tour, nothing from the Internet.  The tour began with a short presentation about Kilmainham and its history. Jails in the past consisted of one room with all of the prisoners. Men, women and children were all put together in one space. Kilmainham jail was created to be a reformer prison. They created separate rooms for the prisoners so they could reflect on their crimes. This spiritual idea was also seen inside of the cells. Many of the windows were facing up to look to heaven and to God and there was also a lot of natural light because it was seen as a healing quality to cleanse the prisoners souls. Many of the people in the jail were detained because of small crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread. The crimes they committed were so small and in response to poverty, but they were given days, months or even years in prison. The youngest prisoner to ever be put in the Kilmainham jail was a five-year-old boy. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that a man named Eamon de Valera was put in Kilmainham jail three times and later became the President of Ireland.  

As we were walking through the prison, looking at the cells and hallways, the tour guide explained the conditions that the prisoners had to live in. The prisoners were each given a plank of wood for a bed, a pail for a toilet and one candle every two weeks used for heat and light. During the potato famine the prison became very overcrowded. People were committing crimes to get put in jail for food and shelter.

There is currently a beautiful exhibition at the Kilmainham jail called Roses of the Heart. Instead of staying at Kilmainham jail many people were sent to Australia to serve their sentence. The exhibition is on the floor of the east wing. It is bonnets commemorating the people sent to Australia.

During our tour through the jail we were brought to Parnell’s cell. To quote our tour guide she called Parnell’s stay in prison a “lovely time”. He had a large bedroom and also a day room. He was allowed to leave for two weeks during his time at Kilmainham to attend his nephew’s funeral. I am very lucky to have seen Parnell’s prison “cell” and his grave also at the Glasnevin Cemetery.

One of the main topics of the tour guide’s discussion was capital punishment. Most people at the Kilmainham jail were hanged. In the museum part of the jail there is a machine that lets the visitors vote for or against capital punishment. There were many more votes against capital punishment then for it. I began to think to myself how I felt about the debate on capital punishment. I though about if I was in the situation or if someone I loved was in the situation that dealt with capital punishment. I could not imagine being an innocent person awaiting the death sentence. However if someone had murdered one of my loved ones I would not want them to be living in jail with any chance of them getting out. It is a hard decision to make, but as I though harder about it I decided that I was against capital punishment. Living a life in prison is a horrible punishment in itself. The risks do not outweigh the benefits in this situation. 


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