National Museum of Ireland and Kilmainham Gaol

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Today, we set off to explore some of the historical sites right here in Dublin. Our lodging is conveniently located within walking distance of most of the attractions we were interested in.

In the early 1100’s, Vikings built a wall around the city to replace earlier earthen fortifications. Remaining segments of the wall can be found around the city, including Lamb Alley, across the street from our lodging. This is one of the oldest parts of the City of Dublin; the oldest house in the city is less than a mile away. Over the centuries, the walls deteriorated despite sporadic attempts to repair them. In the 17th century, there was a move to create open public spaces, resulting in the demolition of much of the wall. Some portions of the wall were incorporated into new buildings, some portions survived because they weren’t in the way of development. Today, what is left is protected by the Dublin City Council. Tours are available that trace the original wall around the City.

We walked a little over a mile to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, which devotes much of its space to Irish archaeology and natural history. Established in 1877, the museum incorporated collections from the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy, which dated back to 1792. Pieces on display include prehistoric gold works, bog bodies, tools, pottery and a long dugout canoe.

In the section devoted to bog bodies, there were several examples from the Iron Age. Bodies discovered in bogs are remarkably well preserved. Whether a body ended up there accidentally or intentionally, it became naturally mummified. The bog’s acidic water, low temperature and lack of oxygen preserved the skin, hair and nails, but the bones sdre usually dissolved by the acidity of the peat.

From medieval times, there are displays of Celtic metalwork, religious artifacts, jewelry, including the beautiful Tara Brooch.

Next, we headed to Kilmainham Gaol, which opened in August, 1796, a modern facility intended to “reform” the prisoners. It was considered to be superior to any other prison in Europe. Each prisoner was to have his/her own cell. However, increased numbers of arrests soon overwhelmed the prison. Several people occupied each cell; men, women and children were imprisoned together, with barely enough room to sleep.

Many famous people have spent time here, including many who were involved in the numerous Irish uprisings. Éamon De Valera, who later became the first President of the Irish Republic, spent time here after the Easter Rebellion, also called the Easter Rising, of 1916. My family has a connection to De Valera; when he visited San Francisco in 1919, my cousin (twice removed) was a member of his honor guard. That’s my small claim to fame.

Kilmainham Gaol was closed in 1924. Demolition was considered, but the cost was prohibitively high. Already in the 1930’s there was interest in preserving the prison and creating a museum. Nothing really happened until 1960, when a workforce of volunteers began cleaning the site. Restoration was completed in 1971, with the site now housing a museum on the history of Irish nationalism.

We passed through the Graffiti Room, with its displays of some of the graffiti from the walls of the cells, mostly dating from 1919 – 1923. We waited in the old courthouse, where so many prisoners received their sentences, sometimes execution by hanging or rifle. From there, we moved to the Gaol itself, passing through some of the older corridors with their tiny cells.

Not all of the cells were so sparse. Charles Stewart Parnell, a Member of Parliament for Cork City, was a proponent of Irish self-governance. He was elected president of the Irish National Land League in 1879, a group that advocated for land reform. Most of the land in Ireland was held by English landlords, many absentee. Irish were generally not allowed to purchase land. Parnell owned a newspaper, the “United Ireland,” which attacked the initial Land Act, considered by many to be ineffective. Parnell was arrested and sent to Kilmainham. Because of his political standing, the Gaol combined a couple of cells to create a larger room, with better lighting, two windows even a fireplace – lucky man.

The more modern part of the jail may be familiar to you. It has been featured in a few movies: “The Italian Job,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Escapist,” just to name a few.

A number of executions were held in the yard, by hanging or rifle. Ten participants in the Easter Rebellion were among these.

The last time I visited Ireland, I wasn’t very impressed with the food. That has definitely changed. There is much more variety in the foods, and more creativity in the preparation and presentation. Today, we enjoyed an excellent sourdough pizza at The Lab, a restaurant near our lodging. It’s worth checking out.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
This entry was posted in Europe, Ireland, Museum, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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