Kilmainham Gaol Dublin - A landmark of Irish Independence

BY: Claire Kane |19 Sep 2014
Kilmainham Gaol Dublin - A landmark of Irish Independence

Kilmainham Gaol Dublin is a landmark of Irish history and independence. If you truly want to understand Ireland, a visit to Kimainham is a must.

Located just outside the city, this is one of the largest unoccupied jails in Europe and it has become somewhat of a centrepiece for Ireland’s most tragic period during the struggle to obtain independence and identity.

Granted, it may seem a little macabre to visit somewhere that housed sheer despair, unnecessary suffering and death, however to truly understand the foundations on which Dublin, indeed on which Ireland, was built, you must visit this historical gaol.

A long list of nationalists that helped carve out modern Ireland’s existence were held in Kilmainham Gaol - plenty of them met their final demise there, possibly most famously James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett, who married Grace Gifford in the prison the night before his execution.

A gate at Kilmainham Gaol Dublin

Image courtesy of Psyberartist via Flickr

These are just some of the things you will learn as you are led around the prison by a knowledgeable guide who will help bring the stories that lie within the walls back to life.

The tour of the prison begins with an audiovisual presentation in the basement of the building. Here you will be given a solid background on which to base your experience in the prison - 200 years of Irish history from the perspective of the Irish nationalists. The half hour presentation leads into a tour of the entire building with each stop telling the story of the prison’s occupants and the treatment they were subjected at the hands of unsympathetic guards.

The guided tour will take you to the east wing of the prison which was designed in a way that would ensure that the prisoners could be watched all day long from certain points on the floor. There are no dark corners to hide in and the cells are inhumanely small - tiny rooms in which 7000 men and women occupied during the famine.  What is truly moving about this portion of the tour is the graffiti etched into the walls - personal notations of prisoners held for fighting for their cause.

One of the most harrowing portions of the tour is the exercise yard - the very yard which saw dozens of executions following the 1916 rising. There is something lingering in the air here, and as your tour guide explains the significance of this area within the prison you can almost smell the history. It’s quite haunting.

The Kilmainham Gaol tour is one of the most recommended tourist attractions in Dublin, although you cannot book your tickets unless you’re travelling in a large group (click here to book for a group) so get there early. Even if you’re met with a queue upon arrival, persevere, it is worth the wait.

If you are taking this tour as a visitor to Ireland you will marvel at the nation’s inherent jovial characteristics despite such a bleak and acutely distressing past. If you are visiting as an Irish person, you will be humbled by the stories you are told and perhaps leave a fraction more patriotic than you were when you entered.

Find Kilmainham Gaol on Google Maps

Header image courtesy of Laura Bittner via Flickr.

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