Doing the tourist thing

14 August 2005

For a while now I’ve been meaning to go and check out some of Dublin’s tourist spots, and finally, inspired in part by Anne’s trips round Paris, I headed up to Kilmainham Gaol.

frontIt cost a fiver to go in, that includes a browse round the museum and then a guided tour of the prison. The tour lasts around an hour or so[1] and it was really interesting tour, and although a lot of Irish history came up I thought the tour guide did a pretty good job of keeping it as simple as possible for all those furriners who know nothing :)

Of course, a jail isn’t really the most cheery of places, especially one that has seen quite a few executions, both hangings and shootings. We were shown into the exercise yard where the 1916 executions happened, and I’ll admit to wondering where all the bullet holes in the walls were. But we got an explanation, the soldiers would put sandbags behind the man to be shot, and these would absorb the 11 bullets.

And then of course there was the “oh-so-cheerful”[2] story of Joseph Plunkett. I’m guessing that most of you non-Irishers out there haven’t heard of him?
Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford had planned to be married in Easter 1916, a date that was put in danger when Plunkett went for surgery just days before. But it was not his terminal disease that cancelled the wedding, instead it was the 1916 Rising. Instead Plunkett was sentenced to death for his part in the rising.

altarHours before his execution was to be carried out Grace and Joseph were married in Kilmainham gaol’s small catholic church. No guests or witnesses were allowed to attend, save the soldiers, who kept Plunkett’s hands bound at all times apart from when he placed the ring on his wife’s finger. The couple were not allowed to say anything to each other, only their wedding vows.

After the wedding had taken place the couple were escorted to Plunkett’s cell, where they were allowed ten minutes together, under the supervision of two officers. With another soldier outside to keep track of the time.

There was a slight chance that Plunkett was to be reprieved, so after she left the gaol Grace remained in the area, waiting. If all remained quiet it meant that Joseph still lived. But she heard the shots that meant that he had been executed.

In later years Grace herself was held prisoner in Kilmainham Gaol, as a prisoner of the Irish government during the Civil War.

Now, I better go decide where I’m visiting next.


  1. I forgot my watch, and my phone, so had no clue of what time it was until I got home
  2. when will someone come up with a “this is untrue” emoticon, or does one exist already?

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14 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    So Joseph Plunkett was executed, then? And were there pretend wardens and prisoners in the jail?
    Good on you for doing that, I'm going to check the pictures now.

  2. Alan says:

    Kilmainham Gaol is just round the corner from my Dublin flat. I did the tour a few years ago and thought it was excellent, but having spent the last year pretty much exclusively studying late 19th century Irish history I would love to do it again as I think I would appreciate it more.

  3. Fence says:

    Anne, yup. Shot dead. But no pretend prisoners, just empty cells.

    There's a fair bit of background and basic info in the tour Alan, as you probly remember, but knowing anything about the history makes it a lot more interesting alright.

  4. janine says:

    i've been thinking of visiting the tourist sites myself lately so must head to kilmainham gaol after reading this.
    i checked out a bit of dublin castle and the chester beatty library this weekend. by the time i got there the library was closing but it looked great and was lovely to walk round so i'll be making a return visit shortly…

  5. NineMoons says:

    You should read that Morgan Llewellyn book 1916 – I thought the writing was a bit shite and all the coinkidinkies were all a bit irritating but there's some nice humanising of the people like Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett.
    I found Kilmainham Gaol really sad when I went there. I was 11 granted but the whole execution yard thing and the tear-jerkery of the pre-execution weddings really got to me. Especially with the no time alone thing.
    See a few newbies posting. You're so popular… :-)
    10 days left!

  6. Fence says:

    Well brother #2 found it so sad when I was last there that we had to leave coz he was crying and everything. Course, he was only 2 or 3 at the time…

  7. Carl V. says:

    Sounds fascinating! I'm always interested in the more creepy and morbid parts of history.

  8. LiVEwiRe says:

    hahahaha! 'furriners'… love that! You know, something I tend to love and take notice of everywhere I go is the architecture. The older the better. Just knowing how so many things occurred prior to my arrival. Eh, maybe it's the nerd in me.

  9. Fence says:

    Carl V., you'd love the gaol so :) Full of stories about prisoners who went mad because the Victorians thought they could cure criminality by keeping people totally isolated, locking them in their cells on their own for 23 hours a day. With one hour of exercise, but even then they weren't allowed to talk to one another and had to keep their eyes on the ground. This had such a wonderful effect that eventually metal cages had to be errected to prevent prisoners leaping to their deaths from the upper levels.

    Livewire it is pretty old, first opened in 1796.

  10. NineMoons says:

    And we're still housing prisoners in Mountjoy which was built around 1850. And it's still pretty much the same inside. And it has a funny smell. And the toilets don't work.

  11. Fence says:

    I wouldn't know about that. Never been there … (I'll just insinuate tht you have had a little spell there though)

  12. NineMoons says:

    It was an afternoon.
    A field trip.
    With my criminology class.

    My real jailtime was spent in the far more modern and comfortable women's prison in the grounds of Mountjoy, the Dochas Centre. Translation for our non-Irish speaking friends – the Hope Centre. In the grounds of the Mount of Joy. What a strange world we live in.

  13. banzai cat says:

    Well, I guess I'm a furriner but then, it's weird to see cats without fur. Sorry, I'm close-minded about that.

    Still, it's funny to think that sometimes we're so hyped up about visiting strange and faraway places when we could check out strange and very near places instead. I for one know there are some sites in my city that I haven't really looked into.

  14. Fence says:

    Aint that the truth. Whenever you go away you always go to see at least a few "places of note"

    I'm thinking I'll go to the Collins Barracks pn my next "doing the tourist thing" trip. Weekend after next maybe, I'm off home this weekend.