Kilmainham Gaol

St JamesCounty Dublin

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Kilmainham Gaol © National Monuments Service, Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Príosún Chill Mhaighneann aka Kilmainham Gaol began construction in 1786 (to replace an older prison located nearby at Mount Brown) and opened in 1796. The architect was John Trail (c. 1725-1801). Built on Gallows Hill, Kilmainham Gaol was one of the most modern prisons in Ireland.

Serving as the county gaol for Dublin, convicts from many parts of Ireland (due for transportation) were also held here for long period. During the first half of the nineteenth century, over 4,000 prisoners were transported to the colonies in Australia via Kilmainham Gaol.

Women made up a significant portion of the Gaol's population up until 1881. But 1821 was the last year that women were hanged at the Gaol, the last two women being Bridget Butterly (1802-1821) and Bridget Ennis (1800-1821). Thousands of ordinary men, women and children were held here for crimes ranging from petty offences (such as stealing food) to the more serious (such as murder). During the Irish Famine, the number of prisoners entering Kilmainham Gaol caused serious overcrowding (with up to five people in cells designed for one). Most had been charged with begging and stealing food.

Some of its most notable political prisoners include:

  • United Irishman, Henry Joy McCracken entered the Gaol on the 11th of October 1796 and was hanged two years later.

  • United Irishman, Robert Emmet, was held in Kilmainham while awaiting trial for treason in 1830. He was executed later that year.

  • Anne Devlin was detained here at the same time as Emmet and spent two years in the Gaol.

  • William Smith O'Brien and other leaders of the Young Irelander rebellion were brought to Kilmainham Gaol and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Queen Victoria commuted the sentence to transportation to Australia instead.

  • Charles Stewart Parnell and many of his fellow MPs were detained in Kilmainham from October 1881 to May 1882

  • Padraic Pearse, as leader of the Easter Rising, was transferred here from Arbour Hill before being shot at dawn in May 1916. 

  • On the eve of his execution, Joseph Mary Plunkett wed Grace Gifford here on May 3, 1916.

  • Its last prisoner, Eamon de Valera, was released from the Gaol in 1924 as the Irish Civil War ended. After this, the Gaol was closed for good.

In 1861, the spectacular East Wing was built (based on the Victorian belief that prison architecture was crucial to the reform of inmates). Opened in 1862, this new wing provided an extra ninety-six cells. In 1867, following the failed Fenian uprising and the need to detain so many, Kilmainham was cleared of common prisoners and security tightened. In 1881, Kilmainham became an all-male prison. And in 1901 the Gaol ceased use as a convict prison and was handed over to the (British) Army, who used it as a military detention centre.

From 1916-1924, under different governments, Kilmainham Gaol aka Kilmainham Prison Barracks was used to house political prisoners. 

  • Following the Easter Rising of 1916, Kilmainham Gaol was reopened to house hundreds of men and women arrested for their part in the rebellion. Fourteen leaders were executed in the former stone-breakers' yard. In 1917, the last of the 1916 prisoners were released in an amnesty. 

  • From 1919-1921, during the War of Independence, Kilmainham was used by the British government to hold captured members of the Irish Republican Army.

In 1923, Kilmainham Prison closed for good. 

KILMAINHAM MUSEUM

In 1960, after a long period of neglect, the voluntary Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee (mostly veterans of the 1916-23 period) set about preserving the Gaol as a monument of Irish nationalism. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising in 1966, President Eamonn de Valera performed the opening ceremony.

In 2016, the neighbouring Kilmainham Courthouse (built c. 1820) became part of the Kilmainham Gaol Museum.

RECORDS FOR KILMAINHAM GAOL 

For the most part, all that survives are the General Registers.

For births, marriages and deaths that may have taken place at the Gaol, note that the Catholic chaplain was from St. James’ Church in James’ Street (near the Guinness Brewery, in the Civil Parish of St James) and the Protestant chaplain was from St. Jude’s Parish (a church nearby on the Inchicore Road in the Civil Parish of St Judes). These episcopal records have been transcribed and are worth exploring. Baptisms referring to children born or living in “Kilmainham” could refer to that general district or the gaol.


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References

Kilmainham Gaol Museum Ireland VIEW SOURCE
Kilmainham Tales Ireland VIEW SOURCE

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Gaol

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