Kilmainham Gaol was first built in 1796, and was called the ‘New Gaol’ in order to distinguish it from the old gaol. It’s purpose was to replace a dungeon that was just a few hundred yards from the present site. The official name was the County of Dublin Gaol, and originally run by the Grand Jury for County Dublin. When it was first built there were public hangings that took place at the front of the gaol; however, from the 1820s there were very few hangings that took place at Kilmainham. In 1891 there was a small cell built in the gaol specifically for hangings.
Men, women, and children were incarcerated together with up to 5 people in each cell. There was only a single candle for light and heat within the cell forcing the prisoners to spend most of their time cold and in the dark. This single candle had to last them for two weeks, and each cell was roughly 28 meters squared. At one time this prison held all the people involved in the 1916 Easter Rising.
While many of the adult prisoners were transported to Australia the children were sometimes arrested for petty theft. Records show that the youngest could have been around seven years old. For an age that was said to pride itself on a protective attitude toward the ‘weaker sex’, the conditions that women prisoners suffered were exponentially worse than what the men prisoners were experiencing. As early as an 1809 report the Inspector of the prison observed that the male prisoners were supplied with iron bedsteads while the females were forced to lie on straw in the cells and common halls. However, half a century later showed little improvement of these horrible conditions, and the women’s section, which was located in the west wing, continued to remain overcrowded.