Report - - Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin - September 2016 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin - September 2016


Is this the future?
28DL Full Member

Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, was constructed in 1796, to replace the city’s old prison which was described as a ‘barbaric’ and ‘noisome dungeon’. When it opened, it was originally named the County of Dublin Gaol, but was later renamed as Kilmainham Gaol. In the beginning, it was controversial whether or not Kilmainham provided better conditions for prisoners since male and female prisoners were not separated, and in most cases up to five individuals shared a cell which were each heated and lit by one candle. After serving time in the jail, a large number of the inmates were transported to Australia, where they would be put to work in a labour camp.

By 1809, the poor conditions inside Kilmainham, especially for women, prompted a stage of redevelopment. Prior to this, although a number of the men inside the prison had an iron bedstead, women and children, if they were fortunate enough, had to make do with straw on the flagstones. The development, however, was largely unsuccessful due to overcrowding. At one point, the jail was so full prisoners were forced to share corridors and the common halls. Consequently, disease throughout the building was rife, and many inmates died as a result. Gradually the conditions inside the prison did improve, most notably when the number of prisoners was reduced.

Despite its horrific past, today Kilmainham Gaol is much more famous for being a symbol of militant and constitutional nationalism. Throughout its history it housed many Irish rebels who fought for independence from Britain. Many were executed by hanging within Kilmainham’s walls; these were usually the rebellion leaders. Kilmainham is even more notorious, however, for housing prisoners from the 1916 Easter Rising, when the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army took over a number of strategic buildings in Dublin, and from the Irish War of Independence that was fought by the Irish Republication Army. The Easter Rising was perhaps the rebellion that changed many Irish citizens’ attitudes towards the rebels. During the uprising, most of Ireland did not support the actions of the rebels, especially since there was a war raging against the Germans. However, after the British heavily shelled parts of Dublin using artillery, and shot a number of the rebels inside Kilmainham without proper trials, public support increased dramatically. After the first three executions of rebel leaders, John Dillon, an important Irish politician, pleaded with The British Government:

“thousands of people… who ten days ago were bitterly opposed to the whole Sinn Fein movement and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated against the Government on account of these executions… It is not murderers who are being executed, it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, a brave fight, however misguided”.

Dillon was quickly heckled and dismissed by British MPs, even though they were worried about the implications the executions would have and the trouble they might cause in future years. Eventually, however, they listened to the advice being offered. The remaining rebels were sentenced to penal servitude and were imprisoned in Kilmainham and a number of other prisons across Ireland and Britain.

The gaol was later decommissioned in 1924 by the Irish Free State, as it was widely viewed as a place of suffering, humiliation and oppression. There was no desire to preserve the site at this stage, even if it was considered by some to be a monument to the struggle for independence. In the years that followed plans to reopen the prison were considered, but they were never implemented. By the 1930s the government considered demolishing the building, to remove the bad memories from the City of Dublin. Nevertheless, the cost of this undertaking was deemed too expensive. In later years, the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society was founded, and they have begun a movement to save and preserve the historic building so that future generations can be taught about Ireland’s past.

Our Version of Events

To take the tour, or not to take the tour? That was the question.

First of all, you will approach the main gate. Getting through this is easy, since it’s wide open. Next, however, you have to pass through a reception area, where there are many watchful eyes lurking behind the desk. But, if you crawl and squeeze your way through the legs of those who are patiently standing in a queue, you will find yourself in a small room filled with interesting facts and information. It’s a good idea not to hang around in here, as this is the first part of the tour. So, to avoid bumping into a guide, who will stop you wandering around freely, it’s important to crack on and head towards the cells.

Once in the cells, we were away from the crowds. However, unsure whether a tour guide would appear at any moment, there was no time for hanging around. We moved quickly down a long stone corridor, trying to grab a few shots of doors and other interesting things that caught our eye. In our haste, we forgot to alter the focus on the lens, so the majority of the shots are a little zoomed in. Our aim wasn’t so much to provide a detailed report, it was simply to sneak into the largest room that was built according to a panopticon design. Expecting to get caught at any moment, we dashed through most of the prison and failed to take photos of the chapel and some other important rooms.

Finally, after a fair bit of searching, we found ourselves inside the large traditional panopticon room. It was certainly an intimidating structure, and with only one way up and down the central staircase, it was obvious that prisoners stood no chance of escape. Above us there was a giant skylight, and it illuminated the room absolutely perfectly. No doubt back in the day this would have allowed the guards to observe the inmates with relative ease; there were no shadowy areas in this room! According to one of the information plaques that had caught our eye, it was intended that the roof would represent God, so the prisoners could feel the warmth of his hand, ‘see the light’ and change their ways. Those that were especially bad were locked up downstairs, beneath the great structure, where there was no heat or light at all. The underground area was meant to replicate hell.

After taking a few shots in the main hall, we took a quick look outside in the yard, just before we mingled with a large group near the entrance. The yard is quite an historic area, since this was the site where a number of rebel leaders and revolutionaries were executed. With large wooden gates and high stone walls, it was a very grim place. Everything seemed grey and cold. We only stayed for a minute or so.

Back with the large crowd, we made a group decision that it might actually be interesting to do the proper tour, to learn a bit more about what we’d just seen. So, in the end we decided to pay anyway; partly because the site is managed by a restoration society, and they depend on people’s money to maintain the historic building. It seemed fair, I can’t imagine the preservation of a site like this being cheap. We spent the next hour walking back around the building, through the same corridors and rooms, but it was definitely worth it. As you walk around Dublin, you learn little pieces of information at various different key sites, and the stuff we learned here helped us to piece things together a little better. After the tour was over, adopting the true Irish spirit, we headed back into the heart of the city to find a proper pub. From there we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening drinking Guinness and fine whiskey.

Explored with Ford Mayhem, Meek-Kune-Do, Rizla Rider, The Hurricane, Box, Husky and Soul.