Kilmainham gaol, Ireland
The free state of Ireland has many of its forefathers who participated in its struggle to thank for it. And what better way to thank them than turning the largest jail served by them into a museum. And totally dedicated to them, crystallizing the memory of their toil and sacrifice inside the four walls of this prison and embracing their sacrifice.
Kilmainham Gaol is that historic prison.
Also known as the ‘Irish Bastille’ it is one of the biggest unoccupied gaols in the whole of Europe. Situated in modern Dublin, Kilmainham played a key role in Irish history noting that its had many great men walk its corridors. Leaders and supporters at the forefront of struggles and rebellions were imprisoned and executed within these very walls by the British. Only in 1923 did Ireland become a free country and the inmates of Kilmainham were able to walk out of there, into freedom.
Originally built in 1796 under the name the “New Gaol” it was run by the Dublin County’s Jury. Today its run by the Irish government in memory of everyone who spilled sweat and blood for the nation in its fight for independence.
In 1960s, the Office of Public Works, came up with a proposal for its reconstruction and salvaging. This was a move aimed at turning the now desolate prison into a historical site. Thus the museum was restored all the way out of volunteered donations and labor efforts. The nearby overgrowth of vegetation was cleared out and the altar was modified. The whole prison was re-roofed, re-floored and mildly air-brushed to give it the look of a museum. By 1971 the second round of restoration was complete and the site was open to public. The efforts of people saw to it that they could restore the prison to a degree of improvement in order to pay due respect to the martyrs. The symbolically important prison yard was tidied up and made more presentable as an ode to those who died in the 1916 struggle.
The prison is now a site hoarded by tourists around the year. Its only a bus trip away from the center of Dublin city and is open to viewing from 9.30 am to 5 pm between April to September. During the next cycle, October to March, the museum is open between 9.30 am to 4 pm with an exception of Sundays when its open till 5. The entry fee is very nominal and the tour guides are very knowledgeable and give a detailed tour. After all that is out of the way, you can immerse yourself into the deep history rooted in the very spot you’d be standing in. The whole museum has an eerie charm to it, irrespective of the weather gives everyone a cold shudder knowing people were hung and executed here. The visit is well organized with tour guides talking you through the corridors with the history of the museum bringing to life the characters who played a major role in Ireland’s history. The stories of Political and Military leaders namely, Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell and the leaders of the 1916 uprising Eamon de Valera are a part of tour.
The echoing footsteps in the hallways and the spartan furnishings typical of a jail make it hard to remember that its now only a museum. The trip allows visitors to walk in and out of the prison cells and chambers giving them a first hand feel and dramatic insight into what it was like to be confined in one of these chamber of punishments for years. It is a panorama of an epic struggle the nation does not want washed away in time. The re-work has given it the look profound, disturbing and inspiring the prison carries.
The tour around Kilmainham Gaol also includes an exhibition as it is a very busy site teeming with tourists as there are more and more people lately who are interested in learning about the history behind the place. A brief video recounting the past is also played to tourists briefing them on some of the historic events centered around Kilmainham and Ireland. Additionally there is also an art gallery sits on the lofty top floor exhibiting paintings, sculptures and jewelry of prisoners who were incarcerated in prisons all over the country of Ireland.
The site also has excellent facilities for children and disabled persons to be toured around displaying the true mark of a top notch tourist spot. The Irish government has clearly taken it upon itself to give the best tour possible to educate people about the history of the country.