Kilmainham Gaol: Tragic Tales & Purposeful Preservation

 

Our entrance into Kilmainham Gaol

Our entrance into Kilmainham Gaol

On our first full day in Dublin, after a long walk through the city in the rain, we ended up at the forbidding Heritage Ireland site, Kilmainham Gaol. We walked through the gates and into the castle-like structure, and we were thrilled to have made it in time for the next tour.  We still had plenty of time to warm up, dry off, and visit the museum before our guided tour began.

The museum was fantastic, and surpassed only by that feeling one gets while walking in the exact space where history happened.  There were several interactives, artifacts, videos, and images to tell the story of the Gaol as a prelude to the tour.  One of the most impactful displays was that of a log book that dated to the time of the Great Famine; in the book, names were recorded with an offense, as well as the punishment incurred.  Men, women, or children who stole even a loaf of bread were subject to imprisonment or even disfigurement in some cases.  Rioting or horse theivery brought on even harsher punishments.  BEcause of the famine, cells became overcrowded, and often cells designed for 1 person housed 5.

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“Beware the risen people…”

The Kilmainham Gaol has a horrific and tragic history.  The oldest section opened in 1796, and windows contained no glass and there was no other lighting within the prison. This made for a dark, damp, and cold abode for those imprisoned there, especially since a prisoner was only given one small candle every two weeks.  The people who called the prison “home” for any amount of time really tell the story of the Gaol, and Ireland as a whole.  Political prisoners, often designated as such by English soldiers,  were some of the most notable prisoners, with the first detained in 1796 when the Gaol was just opened.

Cells along the older section of the gaol.

Cells along the older section of the gaol.

Robert Emmet was another early political prisoner, along with his housekeeper, Anne Devlin. Emmet was executed for treason, but Anne’s story was possibly even sadder than his death.  Anne’s story has stayed with me even now, and I would love to learn more about it.  Essentially, Anne was jailed for carrying information for Emmet’s uprising in the early 1800s.  She was imprisoned in one of these tiny, dark, damp cells and questioned endlessly for the information she had.  She did not give any of the other conspirators up, and eventually she was released.  However, not only did they imprison Anne, they also put her younger brother and many other family members in jail to try to influence her tongue.  Her brother fell victim to disease from the open sewers, and died in the jail.  Even after Anne was released, the police followed her, and she was unable to hold a steady job due to their harassment.  She died alone and without much of anything because of this.  All for the cause of Irish Independence (Éirinn go Brách!).

As we walked through the gaol, already feeling cold and damp from our walk, the walls of prison did nothing to put us at ease or comfort.  I think that this really impacted the tour as a whole, since we saw the dark and felt the cold, much like prisoners would at that time.  Especially in the older sections of the jail, where many of the political prisoners were held. This again proves that, though you may be able to see so many things online and have a virtual experience, there is something about being IN the historic space, where you can TOUCH the history, and FEEL the atmosphere.  This also calls for accessibility for all, to bring this back to my larger research projects.

The beautiful Victorian Wing

The beautiful Victorian Wing

Once we got to the Victorian Wing, the brightness and relative warmth, and much larger jail cells felt a bit better in contrast to the cold, dark, cramped cells in the older section.  As part of reforms, this section was built to truly transform prisoners to change their ways through the light and through meaningful work.  The gaol was closed in 1910, for a period of time…

The site of execution for many of the "rebels" of the uprisings, less than 100 years ago.

The site of execution for many of the “rebels” of the uprisings, less than 100 years ago.

The tour ended on a sad note, and with some of the most recent history of the Gaol. Less than 100 years ago, after the 1916 Uprising, the gaol reopened to house the hundreds of men and women accused of participating in and conspiring for the revolt.  Our last stop on the tour was the stone breaking yard, where sixteen prisoners were executed following the uprising.  All were killed by firing squad, and one, James Connolly, was so injured that he had to be tied to a chair then shot by the firing squad. All 16 were then dumped in a mass grave.  The outcry from this led, along with a lot more fighting and struggle, to the eventual creation of the Republic of Ireland.

Also interesting at the Gaol, and relevant to my current job, is the story of the Preservation of the Gaol. One of the last prisoners was future President, Eamon de Valera. After the prisoners were released and independence gained, the Gaol fell into disrepair.  The Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee was established in 1960 to create a museum and monument to Irish nationalism.  Kilmainham’s museum had a great exhibit about this grassroots restoration project.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone who wants to understand the history of the Republic of Ireland and the Irish people.  When I recently asked Charles to reflect on our time there he explained that to him, too, it, “felt personal, like a holding spot for people already condemned, overwhelming.  You could really feel the atrocities that occurred there; it was just dank and claustrophobic.”

Truth.  Another spot where you can truly feel the history.

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A Review of Historic Dublin: Day Two (and Guinness)

After a great night of rest and fantastic care by our AirBnB hosts (thanks for the homemade Christmas pudding and cream – best food I had on the whole trip!) we were ready to see more of Dublin.

Our Walking Tour

Our Walking Tour – note that 7.3 km is about 14.6 km roundtrip, which is NINE MILES.  More on that later…

We woke up early and ventured out to walk the city.  We were staying in the Docklands and we were headed to Kilmainham Gaol for our first stop; we saw a lot along the way!  We walked by the Customs House, the River Liffey, the Famine Memorial, Trinity College, and City Hall once again, this time with brighter eyes.  Dublin is such a gorgeous and historic city, as you can see in the slideshow below.  Walking the city, even in cold, misty rain was well worth it to see the sites.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

One of the most beautiful spots we saw was Christ Church Cathedral.  The cathedral was originally founded around 1028, which is incredible to think about – the millennial celebration is only 14 years away!  On our next trip, I MUST see the Cat and the Rat in the crypt. It was a nice stop along the walk, which turned out to be a bit further and soggier than we had originally intended.  We finally came up to Kilmainham Gaol, after a false stop at a Garda station and a walk past the mental hospital.  The Gaol gets it’s own post, so look for that one next.

At the Storehouse

At the Storehouse

After a moving and informative visit to Kilmainham, we started back towards the City Center and the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate.  This has been the creation site of delicious malty goodness for over 250 years – and don’t worry about losing the black stuff anytime soon: some say the lease Guinness has on the site won’t run out for another 8,475 years!  Arthur Guinness originally leased the site at St. James Gate for £45 per year.  However good the story is, the brewery has since exceeded the original acreage, and therefore that original lease was bought out (by Guinness).

A big ole barrel

A big ole barrel

The Guinness Storehouse tells the story of how beer is brewed, which may not sound like the most interesting exhibit to everyone – they did a great job with it, though!  The museum, as it were, starts in a giant giftshop of everything Guinness.  From there, visitors enter what is essentially a giant pint glass that serves as the entrance to the educational part of the tour.  6 stories contain exhibits, cafes, and bars;  as visitors ascend they learn  the entire process of brewing Guinness, complete with flowing waterfalls, fields of hops and barley, and giant barrels and casks.  The social story of the drink and advertising is also worked into the the exhibit, complete with plenty of photo ops.  The only downside to the exhibit, for me, was that everything was (very well done!) audio and visual effects rather than the actual brewery.  I understand the reasons for this, with a ton of visitors, some who might get unruly and fall into a giant vat of mash, but it still seemed somewhat disingenuous.

View from the Gravity Bar

View from the Gravity Bar

One of the best attractions (other than the honeyed muesli pot from the cafe that really hit the spot when I was starving after a cold walk all across Dublin) was the Gravity Bar on the top floor.  The bar offers, aside from perfectly pulled pint of Guinness, a 360 degree view of Dublin; from there you can see the mountains, the River Liffey, the growth of this fantastic city, and on a good day, even out to the busy port.  It was great to sit back, look out over this city that felt like a home away from home, and sip on a pint (included in the ticket price).

We soon headed back in the cold, back past Christ Church Cathedral, and to a pub for a bite to eat.  Then we called it a night to get ready for a VERY early morning; we had an 5:30am bus to catch to Northern Ireland, our first foray into the United Kingdom!

**Guinness did not sponsor this post, however, if they want to send me free beer or merchandise, I wouldn’t refuse it!**

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A Review of Historic Dublin: Day One

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a virtual trip to Ireland! Also, the kick-off of my new series of travel blogs:

First picture in Dublin -O'Connell Street - off the Airlink and to the coffee!

First picture in Dublin -O’Connell Street – off the Airlink and to the coffee!

I had the opportunity to visit Europe at Christmas for the holidays, and it was everything I dreamed it would be and more.  I’m starting a new series to relive the experiences I had there, especially focusing on the history and culture.  Stops included Dublin, Belfast, the Northern Ireland Coast, a brief stop in Wales, and London. I’m starting the blog series where I started the trip… Dublin, Ireland.

We (Charles and I, not the royal we)landed on Boxing Day in the wee hours of the morning.  After a time stuck on the tarmac, we finally hopped on the Airlink to head to City Center.  We got off the bus onto O’Connell Street, a center for Irish history.  Our first stop was, embarrassingly, the McDonald’s McCafe for coffee – don’t judge; it was early and the first coffee we saw.  We later made up for it with delicious espresso a few streets over.  Once we were caffeinated, we stepped outside into the early morning air, freshly cleaned by one of those typical rain showers. O’Connell Street is in itself one of the most historic places in Dublin; it saw the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish Civil War in 1922.  The General Post Office building still shows the scars of these conflicts where bullets and bombs carved into the stone.  To see these buildings, the street, and feel the history that had happened there was truly powerful.

Ha'Penny Bridge over the Liffey

Ha’Penny Bridge over the Liffey

The River Liffey is at the end of O’Connell street, and we crossed the Ha’Penny Bridge in search of more coffee. Across the Liffey, South of O’Connell Street is Temple Bar, Trinity College, and many more historic sites we visited throughout our visit.  We walked by Trinity College, found MORE coffee at Starbucks, then headed over to the Docklands to meet our fantastic Air BnB hosts to settle into our flat rental (*sidenote – if you’re ever traveling, check out air bnb – we had the BEST experiences traveling this way, and it made the trip more affordable).

Famine Memorial, Dublin

Famine Memorial, Dublin

After a rest, we walked along the Liffey to see the Famine Memorial, several docked tall ships, and more sights of Dublin.  We went along Grafton Street, which was extremely crowded with the post-Christmas shopping crowd.  St. Stephen’s Green was the next stop, where we saw the swans and beautiful gardens.

Now that we were more acquainted with the city, we were ready for a full day of exploring the next day…

 

Favorite spots included:

  • Samuel Beckett Bridge
  • Customs House
  • Famine Memorial
  • Pitt Bros. BBQ

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