March 5, 2012

SIGHTSEEING: Kilmainham Gaol

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Seeing the world as a study abroad student is completely different from any other travel experience. You’re not only on your own to organize trips, but you end up traveling to an obscene number of places in your four to five month stay on a foreign continent. Mostly overlooked on a brief stay in Dublin is Kilmainham Gaol, a prison from the late 18th century into the early 20th century.

After visiting the Jameson Whiskey Factory and Guinness Factory earlier in the day, learning a bit more about the history of Dublin was long overdue. Upon entry into Kilmainham you are immediately struck by the damp air and notice that it is barely warmer inside than out. Rows of small cells line the walls as you walk through the older portion of the jail. Above some of the doors are the names of famous prisoners in the Gaol, all of whom were Irish nationalist leaders.

The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising for Irish Independence were all imprisoned and killed in the Gaol. Treated like royalty while incarcerated, they occupied the larger, more well lit rooms with fireplaces where they could receive visitors regularly. They were even allowed to leave on weekends. Not so bad. Unfortunately, this treatment was indicative of near execution, but up until the moment of death they pretty much had it made inside the Gaol.

As you continue through the old quarter, the cells become slightly more numerous, but overcrowding was definitely a problem. During the Irish Potato Famine, Kilmainham was seen as an ideal place to live. While many were out in the streets starving without anything to eat, the jail at least provided a few meals. Housing men, women and children of all ages within the walls of the cell, cells originally built for one person held upwards of 5. While not the ideal living situation, it was better to be in Kilmainham being fed, than outside of Kilmainham starving.

The most impressive part of Kilmainham is the new wing of the jail, a huge, four-story room built only of cells. With a landing in the center going to all the other floors, you can stand in the center and see what’s going on in every other area. Definitely a lot easier for surveillance than the old wing. The new part of the jail was more luxurious, providing better indoor heating and advanced systems for doing laundry and feeding the prisoners. One of the rooms even had a pretty impressive painting of the Madonna on the wall. I guess the inmates had a lot of free time.

If you’re in Dublin for the weekend, head over to the Gaol for the tour. The guides are extremely knowledgeable, and you will feel like you learned more about Irish culture than just drinking when you leave.

Rebecca Bogatin is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at rbogatin@cornellsun.com . Notes from Abroad: Sightseeing appears on Tuesdays.

Original Author: Rebecca Bogatin