In order to appreciate what you are going to see at Kilmainham Goal when you visit, you have to understand a little Irish history. England had been occupying Ireland for hundreds of years. During that time, non-Irish settlers occupied large areas of the country and this caused generations of resentment. This led to many battles and uprisings and eventually the time was becoming ripe for Ireland to be free of British rule. The Catholic Irish were no longer willing to be second class citizens in their own country. In the first quarter of the 20th century it all came to a head. The Easter Uprising was the beginning of what would be the final fight for Irish independence. Kilmainham Goal plays a big role in the tragedy that ensued.
Kilmainham Goal was first opened in 1792. It held its last prisoners in 1924. It is now the largest unoccupied goal in Ireland. During the famine, it was a common occurrence for those who were starving to death to commit a petty crime so that they would be placed in jail. Better to suffer the crowded and unsanitary conditions than to starve to death in the streets. Children as young as 5 years old were among the prisoners.
After the Easter Uprising of 1916, the main players were all held here and the majority of them were executed here as well. Be prepared for a very emotional visit. You begin by watching a short film and are then taken through the cell blocks. The guides are very knowledgeable about Irish history and the tragedy that is unfolding within the walls of the goal. You will hear about bravery, love that will transcend the horrific tragedy and the beginnings of the Irish Republic. Some of the names you may recognize, others not so much, but it would be a very hard hearted visitor who won’t be touched.
You will look in the cells, visit the site of the executions and read some of the graffiti that the prisoners have left behind. If you happen to be of Irish extraction, this is your history and even if you aren’t it is very hard not to feel the pain of separation that being confined here produced.
After you come back inside from the execution area, there is a museum that will put a face on all the names that you have been hearing. The tour lasts slightly less than an hour; the museum can take a couple more hours to fully appreciate. When you are finished, there is a small tearoom where you can sit and think about what you have seen and to ponder man’s cruelty to his fellow man. You may end up leaving here with a heavy heart, this writer did but you will also have a greater understanding of the Irish psyche and what exactly the IRA has been fighting so hard for.