Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe, covering some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland's emergence as a modern nation from 1780s to the 1920s. Attractions include a major exhibition detailing the political and penal history of the prison and its restoration. The tour of the prison includes an audio-visual show.
When Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796, it was one of the most modern prisons in Ireland. The rectangular west wing of the Gaol dates from this period. In the early years, debtors comprised over half the prison population. Others were detained for begging, stealing, assault, prostitution and drunkenness. Conditions were harsh. For the first fifty years the building had no glass in the windows and no lighting. Prisoners were allowed one small candle every two weeks. Bread, milk, oatmeal and soup were among the food listed on diet sheets.
Prisoners and Hangings
In the early 19th century persons convicted of murder and robbery with violence were hanged in public from gallows erected in front of Kilmainham Gaol. The last public execution took place in 1865. Bridget Butterly (19) and Bridget Ennis (21) were the last women to be hanged at the Gaol in 1821. Women made up a significant portion of the Gaol’s population until 1881, when it became an all-male prison. During the first half of the 19th century, the Gaol housed prisoners awaiting transportation to convict colonies in Australia. A sentence of transportation could be handed down for crimes ranging from murder to petty theft. Over 4,000 prisoners were transported to Australia via Kilmainham Gaol. The final years of the Irish Famine (1845-50) saw a massive increase in the number of prisoners entering Kilmainham Gaol. Prison inspectors reported serious overcrowding, with as many as five people in cells designed for one. Most prisoners, among whom were a large number of women and children, were charged with begging and stealing food.
On 28th February 1910, the prison was closed but was later used to house political prisoners during the period from 1916 to 1924.
For directions on how to get to Kilmainham Gaol from the Dublin Skylon Hotel please click here.