“We have to visit Kil-Main-Ham Ga-ol. Trip Advisor rates this place as a must see Dublin attraction. It mentioned that this is a largest unoccupied jail in Irish history“. And so I convinced my family and took them to this place. At the entrance I prompted the old man sitting at the ticket counter “Is there any guided tours for Kilmainham Ga-ol?”, spontaneously came a response “Yes, and it’s kil-main-em Jail as in Jail”.
With an embarrassed look, I say “oh..its said as Jail“. “The tour will start in 10 minutes, from the museum,which is on the left side here“, he said. “How on earth does Gaol and Jail sound same” I cursed myself! Cheeky!
Least did I know that what I will see and hear in the next 1.5 hours will be a haunting and interesting history, and that it will remain the best experience in my whole of Ireland trip. This jail has seen both tragic and heroic moments, death and sufferings of famous martyrs who struggled during Irish Independence and Civil War. As you walk through this tour to the jail, you will learn the turbulent and brutal history between UK and Ireland. And yes, as mentioned, this is the largest unoccupied Victorian jail in Europe.
Before the actual tour started, there was a 15 minute power point presentation that showed in a nutshell the history of Irish Revolution, it’s leaders, and the economic scenario of Ireland while they were under UK rule. And then we were taken to various sections of the jail, shown the cells, the condition of the prisoners, cells of famous leaders and on how the jail was run.
Public hangings used to take place in front of the Gaol. There were no gender or age segregation in the cell. Each cell were roughly 28m.sq. and there were 5 prisoners in each such cell. And they were given 1 candle every 2 weeks.
It was very cold inside despite me wearing the warm winter clothes. Couldn’t imagine the plight of the prisoners who would be just wearing the cotton clothes. And windows are now covered with glass, but back then there was no glass (as you see in the above picture). And to add, the sanitary conditions were poor then. It would have been such a brutality!
Over the 129 years that it served as a jail, there were about 180000 prisoners most of which were due to common crimes. And during the famine, the cells would be packed with prisoners who commit the crime of stealing bread and potatoes/ any food or clothes. It was under British rule that various Irish patriots were captivated and executed. 14 of the country’s famous leaders were shot dead in the courtyard (above picture where you see the cross).
This is the East wing of the jail which was constructed later to accommodate the increasing Irish prisoners during the fight for their independence. On it’s familiarity note, this part of the Gaol has been filmed in various movies, the most famous being yesteryear’s flick The Italian Job.
Overall it was a great learning experience in terms of the country’s history. The tour guides were very knowledgeable and the stories about the martyrs were heart wrenching. If you have just time to visit 1 tourist attraction in Dublin, then this would be it! Highly recommended! But do note that they do not accept credit/debit cards, but only Euros, and it’s best to pre-book the tour in advance to avoid disappoints.