The Royal Hospital was originally built as a retirement home for British soldiers, particularly high-ranking officers. Being a home for aging soldiers, it would be only natural to build a cemetery nearby for the unfortunate departed. The cemetery would also have to be secure from the late-night activities of the sack-'em-up-men who might be coming for some... treasure hunting...
As it happens, the officers cemetery is directly across the way from Dublin's second most famous cemetery, Bully's Acre. This land has reportedly been a burial site for more than a millenium. It is rumoured that casualties of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 (!) were buried here long before Dublin City expanded westward into Kilmainham.
In the centuries since, it has been used off-and-on (currently off) as a burial site and cemetery. It is apparently open for tours, but the marketing materials for these tours look pretty kitschy in the Ghost Tours of [City] kind of way. Taking a photo between the iron bars of the gate gives us a nice look at... some trees, grass, and a few old headstones.
Down the beautiful boulevard is the Royal Hospital building itself, which today houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). The museum is always free and hosts events and new exhibits regularly.
I should say that I am not a savvy connoisseur of modern visual art- and I know this is because I haven't been properly educated. I enjoy taking in postmodern Classical music, but I wouldn't if I didn't spend those semesters breaking down and analyzing the structure of modern music scores.
I'm sure a modern art fan would have thoroughly appreciated the pieces on display, but I was there mostly on a practical fact-finding mission. The museum itself is a piece of art, and the building makes a nice photo from any outside angle and from the impressive inner courtyard.
|Royal Hospital Kilmainham Inner Courtyard|
For an art novice, the museum is worth at least a passing visit, especially given the proximity to both the beautiful public gardens and Dublin can't-miss Kilmainham Gaol.
|Royal Hospital Kilmainham Gardens|
If you care to pay the IMMA a visit, the most convenient public transport stop is Heuston Station. Several bus routes and the Luas Red Line stop at Heuston. The east entrance to the museum grounds is just southwest of the Heuston stops on Military Road.
This is particularly nice if you plan to visit Kilmainham Gaol. The east entrance of the Royal Hospital connects to the gardens and the grand boulevard that shoots you straight to Kilmainham Gaol through a quiet, green park. It is a nice break from your inevitable walk on noisy, grimy city streets.