Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) in Dublin, Ireland is one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe, it was involved in some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s history and its emergence as a modern nation from 1780s to the 1920s.
When it was built in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol was referred to as the ‘New Gaol’ to distinguish it from the old gaol it was designed to replace. Over the 128 years it served as a prison, its cells held many of the most famous people involved in the campaign for Irish independence. The British imprisoned and executed the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising here including Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas Clarke.
Children were sometimes arrested for petty theft and held in the prison, the youngest said to be a seven year-old boy. Men, women and children were imprisoned together, up to 5 in each cell, often with only a single candle for light and heat. Most of their time was spent in the cold and the dark as each candle had to last the prisoner for two weeks.
Kilmainham Gaol was closed as a prison in 1924, by the government of the new Irish Free State. Following lengthy renovation, Kilmainham Gaol now hosts a museum on the history of Irish nationalism and offers guided tours of the building. An art gallery on the top floor exhibits paintings, sculptures and jewellery of prisoners incarcerated in prisons all over contemporary Ireland.