Kilmainham Jail, Dublin City

Kilmainham Jail, Dublin City

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Built in 1796, Kilmainham Jail has an unique place in Irish History and was where for more than 100 years those who fought against the English occupation of Ireland were imprisoned and where many of them died, It is a sombre, even chilling, place to visit, but absolutely fascinating.

There is a heavy emphasis during the tour on putting the jail in its historic context and you will leave with a much deeper understanding of the often complex forces which shaped the Irish nation.

There are two main wings to the Jail, very different in character. The East Wing opened in 1864, during a period of Victorian prison reform and is almost identical in design to Pentonville Prison, a soaring 3 story high space surrounded by catwalks onto which the cells open. It is architecturally very impressive. The older part of the jail in the West Wing remained in use however, a dark and claustrophobic corridor of cells where prisoners awaiting execution were held.

The most famous, or infamous, executions of all in Kilmainham were those of fourteen of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising. These took place in May 1916, in the early hours of the morning in the Stonebreaker’s Yard. Among them was leader of the Rising Padraig Pearce and his brother William, James Connolly, Eamon Ceannt and Sean McDermott. Stark black crosses now mark the places where these deaths occurred.

While the Easter Rising ended in failure, the execution of those involved was a disaster for the British as it rallied even those who had opposed the Rising to the cause of Irish Freedom and eventually led to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1921.

The last prisoner held in Kilmainham was anti- treaty IRA leader Eamonn De Valera who in later years served first as Toiseach (Prime Minister) and subsequently President of Ireland. After his release the prison was closed, locked and essentially left to rot by a population who hated even the mention of its name and wanted to forget about the injustice, torture and executions with which it was associated.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that efforts began to preserve it and open it again to the public. It opened in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Dublin.

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