From dingy cells at Alcatraz to lockups in Scottish castles, prisons are so interesting to me – I can’t imagine the mental games or fear of being inside one. So while in Dublin, we decided to scare ourselves with a visit to Kilmainham Gaol, one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Europe.
Our guide Emma (no question was too tricky for her) explained that in the 1800s the gaol creaked under the swelling population of prisoners. It was used for criminals before they were shipped off to Australia, and the Irish potato famine also saw its rooms fill up as people were arrested for crimes of necessity, such as stealing loaves of bread.
Men, women and children (yes, as young as six years old) were crammed into rooms and hallways with just a blanket, bible and candle to keep them comfort between the damp walls. But, while thousands were dying of hunger on the outside, they were getting three meals a day.
It later became the gaol for people involved in the rebellions in the early 1910s, when the Irish wanted to escape from England’s rule. The leaders were held here before they were executed by a firing squad. Hearing their stories made me pretty ashamed of my English heritage – and embarrassed for our school system. I was never taught about the heinous acts we committed just a stone’s throw away.
If you’re in Dublin, this really is worth a visit – and make sure you get there early so you nab a spot on a tour. The gaol, which languished empty for years, is largely untouched and so spooky. It also taught me things about my country’s history that I really should have known already.
NYC activities (and diets) will resume as normal next week!