Going to Jail

After the eventful sunday in Dublin, the Monday started much more relaxed.

At 10.30 am my host family, the boy’s cousin and I left home to drive to Kilmainham Gaol, where we arrived at 11.15 am. My host mother had booked a guided tour in advance, because they are always booked out for tours on the same day.

Our guided Tour was supposed to start at 11.30 am, so we walked around and read a bit of information about the building.

They startet building it in 1786 and it was opened in 1796 to replace the earlier prison.
The prisons before were usually disorderly places. All prisoners were held together and the conditions were unhealthy. After the prison reform movement (1727-1790) everything changed. Therefor Kilmainham Gaol has single cells and facilities for hygiene and health.

We also learned that the prison nowadays symbolises the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the Rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.
Not only the leaders of the Rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 were detained and some of them even executed, but also all the political prisoners were held in Kilmainham Gaol. The first political prisoner was Henry Joy McCracken.
However, as a county gaol, the political prisoners weren’t the only ones. Kilmainham Gaol held thousands of ordinary men, women and children.
It was also used to house those prisoners, who were sentenced to be sent to Australia. From 1800-1850 over 4000 prisoners were transported to Australia via Kilmainham Gaol.

As the time had arrived we started the tour. The first stop was the small Chapel. In there, they showed us a short slide show while the tour guide said some things.
For example did he told us that one of the leader of the Easter Rising, Joseph Plunkett married Grade Gifford in this Chapel the night before he was executed.


The Chapel of Kilmainham Gaol

The next part of the tour was the West Wing where we could see all the prison cells.
This part of the prison is quite dark and cold, you wouldn’t want to live here. But they had a big problem with overcrowding from 1800-1860, because many people committed crimes to gain entry to the gaol in hope to get food on a regular basis. With the overcrowding there were now up to five prisoners in a cell which was built for only one. Problems such as diseases and poor health and hygiene started to rise and that there was no full separation between adults and children or between the genders.
We were also told that there were a lot of children held in Kilmainham Gaol. The youngest has been only 11 years of age. Children who had to stay longer than two weeks even got school lessons.

Afterwards we went to see the prison cell of Charles Stewart Parnell. Because he was a rather rich prisoner, he had his own room which he was allowed to furnish and keep his own possessions. He was also allowed to interact freely with any visitor.

We then finally went to the East Wing. When I first entered it I was gobsmacked. The Room was so big and bright.
I said to my host father that I think the room looks awesome. He looked at me with a funny expression and said that it’s not supposed to look awesome, it’s a prison after all. But that’s the thing, it looks nothing like a prison.

The East Wing was built in 1861 and opened a year later. It reflects the very different ideas of the Victorian age. They believed that the prison architecture is crucial to reform the inmates.
The use of light was deliberate to inspire the inmates to turn better. The form, called Panopticon, allows the observation of all the 96 cells from one central viewing point.
Underneath are four cellar-level isolation cells, which were used for dark and solitary confinement. After the new East Wing was built only the male prisoners moved there, the female had to stay in the dark and cold cells in the West Wing.
The East Wing will still be used today, not as a prison, but as a concert/theatre hall, to use the great acoustic you have in there.

After the East Wing we went back outside to the activity yards. All inmates were allocated one hour of outdoor activity per day.
But they were separated for their exercises. The ones waiting for their transportation to Australia or for their execution shared a yard and the ones who has been sent to prison temporary, occupied the other one. The women were in a smaller yard nearby. The children were also nearby, but had their own separated small yard.

Going through a gate in the wall, we went to the probably cruelest place on the grounds of Kilmainham Gaol: the Stonebreakers’ Yard.

After 1910 Kilmainham gaol was closed as a prison to save money and were given to the military, the british army. So after the 1916 Easter Rising the british army opened it for hundreds of men and women, who were part of the rebellion.
The leaders of the Rising were sentenced to death and 14 men were executed by a firing squad in the Stonebreakers’ Yard of Kilmainham Gaol between the 3rd and the 12th of May 1916. Seven of them were signatories of the proclamation. In the yard are two crosses, a name plate and the Irish flag to commemorate those who have been executed here.

During the War of Independence (1919-1921) the british government used the prison to hold members of the Irish Republican Army captured.
When the Civil War started in June 1922 Kilmainham Gaol was taken over by the Free State Army who detained and sentenced male and female political Republican prisoners. The Civil War ended in May 1923, but the last prisoner was not released until 1924.
Kilmainham Gaol was officially closed in 1924 to never be opened again as a prison by the Minister of Justice of the Irish Free State.

From the Stonebreakers’ Yard we went back inside through the main entrance. Above the door are five monstrous interwoven shapes. They have been called dragons, demons, serpents and a hydra. They should represent the five worst crimes: murder, rape, theft, treason and piracy.

The tour then ended and we took a look at the exhibition.
In 1960 the Restoration Committee was established and they restored Kilmainham Gaol so it could be reopened as a museum for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966. It was opened by Eamon de Valera, at that time the president of Ireland (1959-1973), but also the last prisoner of Kilmainham Gaol.
In the exhibition they showed the process of the restoration, but also artefacts of the time of the Easter Rising and the times before and after that event.


One of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic showcased in the Exhibition of Kilmainham Gaol

Around 12.30pm we left Kilmainham Gaol and went to a café/bistro across the street to have a little snack to satisfy our stomachs until we could stuff them with lunch at Nando’s one hour later. After Nando’s we went back home where I played with N. outside until D. and her husband (B.) asked me if I want to come with them to the beach to take Trixie for a walk.


My first Nando’s lunch!

At the beach B. and Trixie took the lead while D. and I followed, deep in conversation. The beach is really nice! Especially because it’s so close to the city centre.

When we came back at 5.30pm we had to get ready, because we would all go out for dinner at 6.15pm.
We once again drove to the beach, but this time a different part, as we went to Howth Harbour.
Some of us went for a walk through the harbour, while the others waited for our table.

We had dinner at Crabby Jo’s. After a bowl of spicy buffalo wings as a starter, I had Gambas Tempura & Chips for my main course. For dessert we had a 99.

After dinner the ‘children’ went for another walk. This time we actually went into the sea. Because it was low tide we could easily walk quite a distance through the now empty sea.

We were back home at 10pm and the boys went straight next door to D.’s house to sleep.
My host parents and I stayed downstairs in the living room with the grandparents for a bit. On the TV was a show on called ‘Rose of Tralee‘ which is a very famous irish TV show. But I’d learn much more about it the following days, when we actually went to Tralee.

That was my second day in Ireland!
Only four days left! 😦

Vicky xx


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