Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kilmainham Gaol

One of the most poignant and important to modern Irish history sights we have seen so far has been Kilmainham Gaol (Kill-MAIN-um Jail).  We visited the Gaol before leaving for our Northern Ireland trip, and it helped give us more context and simply...more about the struggles of Ireland in the 20th century.

A stone sign reads:  Kilmainham Gaol 1787
Welcome Sign
I won't can't give the whole history of this historic site, as I couldn't really do it respectful justice.  The Gaol is incredibly significant because it has seen Ireland through good times and bad, and has served different functions throughout its own long history.

A cell door at Kilmainham Gaol Dublin, Ireland
Cell Door
 The Gaol held thieves during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.  Starving citizens turned to crime to get food for their families- or to intentionally land themselves in prison, where they would be guaranteed at least enough food to stay alive.

We noticed right away, and our tour guide (no free wandering in this dangerous old hulk) pointed out, the general exposure in the building.  Windows were barred, but had no glasswork.  Cells and cell blocks were open to the cold, wind, and rain of Ireland.  This kept the air fresh with all the humanity crammed inside, but was neither comfortable nor healthy for those living and working here.

The grand cell block at Kilmainham Gaol
The Grand Cell Block, East Wing
During times of war and struggle, the Gaol was used as a holding place for political prisoners and prisoners of war.  A number of important men and women in Ireland's war of independence and civil war were held here.  Think of a prison in America that would have held Washington, Jefferson, and Adams during the American Revolution and Lincoln, Grant, and Lee during the American Civil War.  Would that place not be hallowed and revered indeed?

The prison yard at Kilmainham Gaol Dublin, Ireland
Prison yard
Being a place to hold traitors in wartime, it was also a place of executions.  Many political prisoners were executed here, mostly by firing squad in the prison yard.  One particular mass-execution helped turn the attitude of the people against The Crown in a time when public sentiment for independence was waning after years of war.

The illuminated tour and the museum exhibits helped answer some of our many questions about the recent history in Ireland- but were afraid to ask.  It is still a bit daunting to keep it all straight, but we are trying.  Again, I'll choose not to simplify the history of the people here in my own clumsy way. Look it up sometime, it's interesting.

As a place to visit, Kilmainham Gaol is highly recommended.  The tour is informative and moving, although much of the building speaks for itself.  Admission is low and value is high- see it while you are here.

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