Tuesday 18 July 2017

Dublin - Kilmainham Gaol

I have an Irish friend, and I was a little reluctant to ask her advice on fun things to do in Dublin. Not that I don't trust her advice,... but I know if someone asked me, as an English person, for fun things to do when visiting London, I wouldn't have the first clue. In fact I'd probably tell them London is stupid and they should definitely visit Yorkshire instead.

I did in the end give in and ask her, and she told me to go to Kilmainham Gaol.

Well, I think the conversation went a bit like:

"Just fun fun things, or nerdy fun things too?"

"Oh, definitely nerdy fun things!"

"Ah then you should go to Kilmainham"

So we did...

Of course, I wish I'd taken her advice about maybe getting a bus over there, but that's a different story altogether....

We hadn't pre-booked as all the slots had sold out online by the time we got organised, but had been told that if you got there early enough in the morning it was usually possible to get booked onto a tour. When we arrived (sweaty and out of breathe from chasing another couple down the road, fearing that they'd beat us to the last tickets of the day!), we managed to get tickets for a tour about 45 minutes away, and were directed to their nice little cafe while we waited (great cherry scones!) 

The only way to look around the old gaol is on one of these tours, but the guides are full of knowledge and passion so it's a great way to learn about the site and the wider history of Ireland at the time of it's use. 

The east wing was opened in 1864 and was highly acclaimed for its 'modern' architecture. The panoptic design offered guards a full view of the cells from a single position, and though it looks light and airy due to the open space and light from the ceiling window, the experience of the prisoners would have been anything but. 

The cells each had a window, but it was too high up to see out of. Inmates were held in solitary confinement, behind thick metal doors. They could not see or hear when the guards were coming. The guards had absolute surveillance and knowledge, and the inmates had none.

Still, this was the nice part...

In the older part of the prison, conditions were much worse. At the height of overcrowding (around mid-19th Century) up to five people were held at one point in a cell meant for one. Desperate situations caused by the famine in Ireland, coupled with the 1847 Vagrancy Act (which meant that begging as punishable by imprisonment) meant the gaol was crammed with an unprecedented amount of men, women and children.

Hygiene was poor in such cramped quarters, and disease was rife. Food rations were minimal, yet still often better than in the outside world for many. 

One reason the prison has gained so much notoriety is that this is where the leaders of the 1916 uprising were held, and later executed. We'd learned a whole bunch about the rebellion on an Easter Uprising Walking Tour the previous day, and it was quite surreal - and genuinely moving - to stand where these men met their end.

Included as part of the tour price is entrance to the on-site museum. I'd recommend having a look around before the tour if you get chance as its a great starting point for understanding the historical importance and context of the gaol - but if you don't get chance it's definitely worth sticking your head round before you leave!

I'm definitely glad I gave into stereotyping and asked my pal for suggestions - Kilmainham Gaol made for a great visit. Some of the stories weren't easy to listen to, but they were invariably fascinating, and I'm glad I got to visit such an interesting place. 


  1. It's so interesting. I've visited a gaol in Wales and I thought it's fascinating. I would love to visit this one too. It's a different way to learn about the history of a place.

    1. It really is a unique way of seeing how certain parts of society were affected by historical changes - not a place and time I'd have wanted to live, that's for sure!

  2. It looks such an interesting and, surprisingly, impressive place! I really liked the tidbits of history and information you shared alongside the pictures, thank you for sharing. Last year, we ended up in Dublin as part of our cruise and really didn't have a clue what to do, esp as it was raining, and we really felt that we didn't do much or particularly enjoy Dublin- something like this would have made it much more interesting!
    P.S. Hello by the way, I saw your link to this post in Anca's comments and thought it sounded a SUPER post to come and read!

    1. Oh that's a shame, I do really like Dublin but the weather can definitely affect your impressions of a place, as is not knowing what to so with yourself when you get there! Hopefully you'll have the opportunity to give Dublin another chance to win you over in the future!

  3. Ooh this looks and sounds like such an interesting place to visit and I love it when someone's recommendation ticks all the boxes like that and it's a successful day out. I must visit Dublin soon as it's been on my list for a long while and when I can I know I need to book a trip there as it just looks so interesting. Really like the photos you got here too, such an impressive looking place! - Tasha

    1. Thanks Tasha! It's an incredibly interesting place to visit, if a little sad - hope you get chance to visit soon!


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