Kilmainham Gaol, GPO Museum, Liffey

Today is my last day in Dublin until I return the day before my flight home. After breakfast, I went to jail. The Kilmainham Gaol, to be specific.

No, no. As much as people who know me, particularly those who know me well, might wish otherwise, they didn’t incarcerate me. Kilmainham Gaol stopped being an operating jail many decades ago.

After I escaped, er, I mean left the Kilmainham Gaol I walked for a bit and had a sandwich for lunch before undertaking my other activities of the day. Those activities included visiting the GPO museum and taking a 45-minute boat tour on the River Liffey.

Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol
Front door of Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Gaol bears an infamous history. Along with common criminals, it held the likes of the leaders of Irish rebellions and risings and its War of Independence. Some executions occurred there as well.

Opened in 1796, Kilmainham Gaol released its last prisoner in 1924. When it opened, it was one of the most modern jails around. But it became overcrowded.

Sometime in the 1800s (I forget the year) the government added begging to the long list of crimes for which they could jail people. What’s more, the policy at the time was that anyone old enough to commit a crime was old enough to do time for it. The jail’s youngest prisoner incarcerated independently, a three-year-old, served a two-week sentence for begging. I have zero expertise in the subject, so I might be wrong, but I doubt that’s an optimal situation for early childhood development.

Further adding to the crowding, in the hard times, when many people starved, some people intentionally committed crimes solely as a ticket to jail. The jail fed them for free. And if they got sick, the jail provided access to a doctor for free.

In Kilmainham Gaol

The old section of the jail
The old section of the jail

The 30-minute guided tour in Kilmainham Gail starts in an old section. There, grim cells line dim corridors. They considered this an advance over traditional jails, which consisted of, basically, one big room that they put all of the convicts into rather than individual cells. But, because of the overcrowding, each cell held five prisoners. And, even then, many prisoners had to sleep in the corridors.

After showing us a couple of parts of this old section of the jail, the guide took us to a newer section. I forget when, but at some point, to deal with the overcrowding, they tore down a section of the jail that was like the still-standing old section and replaced it with one that accommodated more people.

That newer section arranges tiers of cells in a horseshoe shape around a central courtyard. Except, different from a horseshoe, the normally open end of the horseshoe shape is a short, straight, tiered row of cells that connects the two sides of the horseshoe, providing limited points of ingress and egress.

The advantage of this shape is that, standing in the courtyard, guards could see the doors of all of the cells.

The newer building
The newer building

The roof of the courtyard has a large section of glass skylights in it. Thus, during the day, light streams into the courtyard and the barred openings in the cell doors. I didn’t think to ask the guide if the skylights had glass when it was built. For all I know, it might have been al fresco then.

As nice as that sunlight-filled courtyard sounds, prisoners rarely had access to it. Guards usually confined them to their cells, including to eat their meals.

The point of the windows was that the powers-that-be believed that light benefits both physical and mental health. They thought this would help with the rehabilitation of criminals and reduce recidivism. I don’t know if any data exists to support or refute that. In any case, even if it is true, I suspect that confinement in cells might counteract any benefit.

Executions at Kilmainham Gaol

In the jails’s early years, they performed executions by public hangings. The authorities figured that would provide a powerful example to discourage crime.

The authorities eventually decided against public hangings because a sizeable segment of the public was more than a tad ghoulish. Large crowds gathered to watch people die as a form of entertainment. Not exactly humanity at its best, I’d say. To my mind, watching paint dry would be much more wholesome and cheeringly entertaining than watching executions. But maybe that’s just me.

Because people enjoyed them too much rather than being restrained by them, the authorities moved the hangings indoors.

When the British army took over the prison, they eliminated hangings. Instead, they executed people by firing squad.

Almost all of the information above came from the tour guide. He provided a wealth of information on the history and conditions of the jail, some of its prisoners, and some of the reasons for their incarceration. Of course, me being me, I forgot much of it.

If I had any real hope of making any money off this journal (I always have an unrealistic hope of that), I might take notes when I visit places to make these chronicles more complete and accurate. I don’t have any real hope, so I don’t. Deal with it.

Kilmainham Museum

After the tour, the guide leaves guests, such as myself, to explore a small, three-level museum on their own. The museum provides more information on the jail and, particularly, the rebellions and risings that resulted in putting some of the more prominent prisoners there.

I read most of the text and looked at most of the pictures in the museum. But, again, me being me, they got lost in the swirling vapours that make up my brain. I could be wrong about the composition of my brain. But that’s what I’m going with.

GPO Museum


The General Post Office (which people here refer to almost exclusively as the “GPO”) is a beautiful old building that opened in 1818. Today, it still serves as a functioning post office. But it also now contains a café, shop, and, in the basement, a museum.

The GPO Museum, titled “Witness History,” tells the story of the part that the GPO played in an important event in Ireland’s history, the 1916 Easter Rising.

My memory is, as you well know by now, not nearly good enough to impart the details of that. I just hope that I don’t mess up the gist of it, which I’m about to try to relay. I don’t have much confidence in that. If you’re a student facing an exam on this stuff, and you take what I write as the gospel, expect to fail. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Back then, Ireland was under the direct rule of England. That didn’t sit well with many people in Ireland, to say the least. England seemed to be on the verge of agreeing to allowing “Home Rule.” If implemented, this would allow Ireland to have its own parliament, but the head of state would remain the British monarch. This would have been much like the situation in my home and native land, Canada. Our head of state is the King of Canada, which is another formal job title for the person who also serves as the British monarch.

The people of Ireland weren’t united in support of this. Some wanted nothing to do with Home Rule and wanted to remain under the direct rule of England. Others thought Home Rule was perfectly fine. Still others wanted Ireland to become a republic with no ties to England whatsoever. Paramilitary groups formed around each of those stances.

But, no matter. England decided to put any consideration of Home Rule on hold until the end of World War I. Some people in Ireland rose up against that. The result was the Easter Rising of 1916.

Rebels seized a number of buildings in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland. The GPO was one of those buildings. Because it had very thick stone walls, the rebels used it as their headquarters.

When British reinforcements arrived, they bombarded the GPO. Eventually, the roof collapsed and a fire raged. (Afterwards, upon inspecting the building, they found that while the roof and interior were a total loss, the walls remained intact and didn’t need to be demolished or reconstructed.)

The English won and put down the rebellion.

Not all of Ireland supported the rebels. The majority opposed them. But the English were not clever winners.

They quickly arrested 3,000 people, many of whom had little or nothing to do with the rebellion. The English executed 16 of the leaders of the Easter Rising after trials held in secret, without juries. And, instead of executing all of the leaders at once, they dragged out the executions, killing them one or two at a time over a considerable period. This allowed the leaders to come to be seen as martyrs.

As a result, public opinion shifted from being opposed to the leaders of the Easter Rising to being opposed to the English. This probably contributed significantly to the eventual Irish independence (without Northern Ireland).

The audioguide provided at the museum gave significantly more information than I wrote above. I’m thrilled that I remembered as much as I did. I only hope that I remembered correctly at least 27.42 percent of what I think I remembered.

I didn’t take any pictures inside the museum. You’ll have to be satisfied with the exterior shot of the GPO at the top of this section.

River Liffey Boat Tour

For my last activity of the day, I took a 45-minute boat tour on the River Liffey.

One of the things I learned on the tour is that this section of the Liffey, not far inland from its mouth, is a tidal river. How far upstream the boat can go depends on the tide. Consequently, the boat doesn’t always leave from the same point.

At high tide, it leaves from a dock somewhat upriver, closer to the centre of town. But at low tide that dock is not accessible. Then, it leaves from a dock farther downstream, less than half a block from my hotel. When you buy a ticket online, as I did, the ticket email tells you which departure point the boat leaves from for that tour.

In addition to the difference in docks, people on tours during high tide get to travel farther up the river than people on low-tide tours. I was on a low-tide tour.

In addition to the skipper of the boat, there is also a guide on board who provides a running commentary of the buildings and bridges along the way, along with some interesting stories. Of course, I forget most of it.

I didn’t take any pictures. For at least the portion of the Liffey that runs through Dublin, it doesn’t have natural banks. Instead, fortress-like stone-block walls rigidly confine the river to its channel.

Being at low tide, if I took any pictures, a large part of the bottom of the picture would have been of a flat, dirty wall. Either that or I would have had to take the pictures at such a high angle as to make the pictures somewhat disconcerting.

Famine. (I took the picture after leaving the boat tour.)
Famine. (I took the picture after leaving the boat tour.)

While I didn’t retain much, I did remember some things. For example, there is a twenty-some-odd (I think 22, but I might be misremembering) storey building on one of the streets that run on either side of the River Liffey. According to the guide, everyone in Dublin hates it because it’s too tall. I suspect “everyone” is an exaggeration, but it is the tallest building currently in Dublin. They don’t do skyscrapers here.

The guide also pointed out an empty lot closer to the mouth of the Liffey. Construction hoardings surround the site at this time. According to the guide, a developer wants to build a couple of 45-storey buildings there. People are fighting that. I don’t think the developer has approval yet.

Living in a city that has several 60+ storey buildings already up, and a couple of 90+ storey buildings under construction now, I had a little trouble relating to that.

Most of the areas on either side of the Liffey closer to its mouth, are called “something dock,” with “something” replaced with a particular name. The reason is they used to be docks. Today, residential and, mostly, commercial buildings occupy the land.

The guide mentioned one dock in particular. I forget its official name, but, according to the guide, locals refer to it as “Silicon Dock.” It got that name because several international software companies set up their European headquarters there. They came to Ireland because they can generally get away with paying no corporate tax here.

What most stuck in my mind from the tour was the first sight the guide pointed out. It’s a statue by an Irish artist named Rowan Gillespie. It is about a block from my hotel and I’ve passed it every day I’ve been here.

The sculpture is very evocative. It consists of some emaciated figures and is dedicated to the victims of Ireland’s Great Famine.

I knew that much (except for the artist’s name) before taking the boat tour. But here’s something I didn’t know. The artist wanted to, and eventually did, place a similar multi-figure statue at one of the places where the famine immigrants fled to.

Where is that other statue? If you read my post from the other day when I mentioned what provides the greatest probability that I’ll remember something I “learn” while travelling, then you can probably guess. It stands in a small park called “Ireland Park” in Toronto, Canada. I knew about the existence of Ireland Park, but I didn’t know about the statue. I’ll have to visit it when I get back home.

The guide on the boat said that the artist named the famine sculpture in Dublin “Departure” and the one in Toronto “Arrival.” I checked online. I found nothing on the web to confirm those names. In fact, I found the contrary.

The artist’s website provides the name “Famine” for the Dublin statue and “Migrants” for the Toronto one.

This leads me to wonder how many other guides I trusted unjustifiably in the past.

Walking Around

I took a cab to Kilmainham Gaol. It’s a very popular attraction. They let people in only on tours and strongly recommend that you pre-book because they allow only a limited number of people on each tour. Despite tours starting every 15 minutes, when I arrived I arrived in Dublin, the online booking system said they were sold out for every day of my stay here. But the website said that, sometime between 9:15 and 9:30 each morning, they release tickets freed up from any cancellations for that day. When I checked this morning, they had an opening for 10:30. I took it. But with the Kilmainham Gaol a 45-minute walk away, walking there was out of the question.

But I walked back. And I did a little more walking as well.

Let me comment on a couple of the pictures here. Even if you don’t let me, I will anyway, so you might as well accept it.

First, that gentlemanly-looking fellow is James Joyce. Not literally Joyce, of course, but an artist’s representation of him. It’s a statue, not a person. I sincerely hope all of my readers are smart enough to figure that out on their own. But you never know.

Second, do you see the picture of the pointy-tipped spire? The spire is relatively new. For I don’t know how many years before 1966, that spot held a tall column with a statue of a British admiral, Horatio Nelson, atop it.

In 1966, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) blew up the statue to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. I don’t know, but I might have gone with cake and ice cream, and maybe some fireworks. And considering how many people died and that the Easter Rising was initially a failure, I might have gone another way entirely.

The city intended the spire as a millennium project. But cities being what they are, Dublin couldn’t get it up until 2004. And, re getting it up, I read that Dubliners do make those sorts of jokes about the spire.

Tomorrow, I leave Dublin for Kilkenny. I’ll let you know how that goes.


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