After Galway, it was on to Dublin!
Prisons aren’t usually on my list of places to see when I’m on vacation. But sometimes you have to make an exception.
Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin opened in 1796. While it served as a prison for citizens that committed terrible crimes, it also served as penitentiary for leaders and participants of the Irish rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916. Thousands of other prisoners spent time at Kilmainham for crimes as petty as stealing a loaf of bread or not paying their rent on time. During the famine, some would actually commit crimes so they would be sent to jail and finally be able to eat.
On the day we visited, it was a chilly, overcast day. The tour began with an exhibit that chronicled the social and economic happenings in Ireland during the period of time Kilmainham Gaol was open. From the museum area we went on a guided tour of the prison itself. The tour went through different sections built in different eras,with the earliest portions of the facilities having the worst living conditions. They were dark, with just a few peeps of light. The stories we heard about the various inmates were extremely moving and helped us understand what life was like in Dublin from the 1790s through 1924 when the facility closed.
One particular story that stands out was about a young couple that was imprisoned during a rebellion. The man was sentenced to death and scheduled to be hanged. The night before his execution, the couple were married in the prison’s chapel, and he was executed in the prison yard in the morning.
While the stories were hard to hear and the living conditions were grim, I’m really glad that I visited. I gained a stronger understanding for everything the people of Ireland endured to finally gain the freedom they deserved, it’s really a testament to the strength of the Irish people.
To learn more about Kilmainham Gaol, visit http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/Dublin/KilmainhamGaol/.