On the sixth of February, fifth class went on a class trip to Kilmainham Gaol. This is the jail which opened in 1796 as a new jail in County Dublin, and closed its doors in 1924. The 1916 rising leaders were also executed here, and spent their last nights in some of the cells.
We came here to go on a tour with a girl called Siobhán, and she showed us around the jail. The walls were all crinkled and vandalised, by now it is very, very old. Written here, are some interesting facts about the jail itself.
People used to be kept in over-crowded cells, sometimes with up to fifty people. They were treated very badly until the guards and people working in the jail figured out that the criminals were trading tricks of the trade, and were coming out with even more criminal ideas and ways not to get caught. A man brought this to court so that the jail made individual cells for the people staying there. Then, they would be isolated and not want to come back, so they would be better people and wouldn’t need to come back.
Children as young as five were taken into the jail for small things, such as stealing bread or milk. When they turned eighteen, they would move into the adult cells and exercise yards.
The exercise yards were where men and women were broken into two groups, and tied together. Both groups would walk around in a circle, following each other’s feet with their heads looking down at the ground. If they looked up, or talked to one another, they would get smacked with whips by the guards.
After the prisoners came back to their cells, they would only be left with a plank of wood to sleep on and a thin blanket. They also had a bucket (which they cleaned out themselves every morning) to do their business in (you know what I mean).
Leaders from the 1916 Rising had these same facilities, and were all kept in cells in the same corridor. The oldest of them was fifty nine years old, and the youngest was Pádraig Pearse’s younger brother, who was also executed. One of them was Joseph Plunkett, who was married to his wife, Grace before he was executed.
When Joseph was condemned to death, his soon-to-be wife was allowed to marry him some hours before he was executed. The couple were only allowed to say their vows, and other than that, did not get to speak to each other. It was in the chapel, which had been filled with British soldiers and guards. This chapel was also the first place that we visited. A couple of hours after the wedding, the pair were allowed to have ten minutes to speak to each other in Joseph’s cell, but could not speak as they were reduced to only tears. After he was executed, Grace never re-married, and lived a lonely life.
Thomas Clarke was also executed, but was shot in the arm and leg before the execution, and he was too weak to make it to the other side of the exercise yard. He was carried to the end of the yard strapped to a chair and lifted by guards. He was given a blindfold to wear and was shot.
Inside the jail, next we saw the biggest cell block, which was designed so that the guards could easily see any of the cells from the middle angle. They had a clever pulley system to get the food around to the different cells in a quick and efficient way.
Lastly, we went to the museum which had lots of information and prisoners’ last letters. Overall, this trip to Kilmainham Gaol was probably the best we have been on, and we learnt lots.
Typed and written by Rebecca and Maia in fifth class.