Kilmainham Gaol is a very old, historic jail opened it’s doors in 1796 in Dublin, Ireland. It was expanded upon multiple times in it’s history to accommodate for more prisoners and eventually closed it’s doors following the release of it’s last prisoner in 1924. A grassroots movement to restore the jail began in the 1960s following failed attempts to get a restoration process started. Kilmainham now serves as a heritage historical site that you can enter and tour, and also includes a museum.
The conditions of the jail were harsh. The jail itself has been constructed of limestone, a porous stone, making the jail damp and musty as it constantly rained in Ireland, even back then. For the first 50 years, there was no glass in the windows and no lighting besides a small candle that each prisoners was allotted every two weeks. The diet of most prisoners consisted of break, milk, oatmeal, and soup. Men, women, and children were all thrown into the same cells, sometimes up to 5 prisoners per tiny cell [source].
Within it’s 128 years of operating as a prison, Kilmainham held some of Ireland’s most notable ‘criminals’ from various rebellions throughout Ireland’s history. In 1803, Kilmainham held Robert Emmet, the leader of the 1803 rebellion (against British rule). Emmet, who was sentenced to death after being charged with high treason, delivered the famous Speech from the Dock. Around the same time Emmet was held at the jail, his ‘housekeeper‘ and co-conspirator, Anne Devlin, was detained as well. However, she was kept in Kilmainham until 1805. During the two years of her imprisonment, she was mentally tortured and held in poor conditions. The goal of her absolute misery was to gather her intelligence about the uprising and the names of those who planned and attempted to execute it. Anne never broke, but passed away in 1851 in absolute poverty. Other notable prisoners included Charles Parnell (1881), Patrick Pearse (1916), Èamon de Valera (1916), James Connolly (1916), and Joseph Plunkett (1916).
My visit to Kilmainham was on a rainy, chilly day, fitting the mood surrounding the jail. Walking into the first hallway gave me chills. I peered into the cells through the holes in the doors and saw the tiny cells where so many Irish citizens spent their time. The mere fact that I was standing in such a historic place in Ireland’s history where important political prisoners were held and some, executed was enough to make me take a step back and say a quick prayer for lives tortured and lost.
The prison itself is well-preserved and restored in some areas. Graffiti from prisoners still litters the doors and walls throughout the prison. It was an informative and eye-opening experience.