Learning About The History Of Kilmainham Gaol (Tours, Tips + Highlights)

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided By Yoav Aziz – Unsplash

Undeniably one of the best things to do in Dublin when it rains, the history behind the gates of Kilmainham Gaol is a great display of the dark horrors that occurred in Ireland’s struggle for independence.

What was once a jail in Dublin that housed political prisoners whom the British deemed republicans and attempted to push them out of the country, is now one of Dublin’s most sought-after attractions.

Below, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the history that makes up the Kilmainham Gaol tour before you visit.

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The History / Facts Behind Kilmainham Jail

The Beginning 

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided By Wolfsavard – “Kilmainham Gaol Courtyard” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

Kilmainham Gaol opened its gates as the new “County Gaol” in Dublin for prisoners to arrive in 1796. 

Who Were The Prisoners?

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided By Óglaigh na hÉireann “Execution Ceremonies P. Pearse Stonebreakers Yard, Kilmainham Gaol (1)” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

When the prison opened in 1796, the standard prisoner would be there for minor offences like pickpocketing and stuff, you know? But soon enough, there was an influx of prisoners who were deemed, Republicans. These Republicans were men and women who were simply fighting for one thing: Irish independence.

You had a list of prominent figures there, such as the brave Countess Markievicz and the charismatic James Connolly, both of whom were some of the most famous figures in Ireland at the time and are appreciated by many Irish people still to this very day.


kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided By Kathryn_sanches – Instagram

The conditions in Kilmainham Jail at the time were horrendous. It was damp, dirty, and cold. Men, women, and children were all held together in the same cell. Diseases were rampant as there wasn’t really a focus on hygiene. I could imagine seeing a rat or two being a regular occurrence.

Australian Convict Colonies

From the year 1800 to 1850, over 4,000 prisoners were transported from the jail to Australia, where they would be sent to convict colonies to complete their sentences.

A Fenian Insurrection

An attempted Fenian insurrection happened in 1867, but it failed. The British then strengthened the jail’s security and cleared it out of all common prisoners; it would then be just a place for political prisoners.

Becoming A Military Detention Centre In 1910

Photo Provided By Mobilus In Mobili – “Kilmainham Gaol” – Licensed Under CC BY-SA 2.0.

As things were heating up in the country, the British army was handed control of Kilmainham Gaol in 1910, as the prison would no longer be a place to house convicts; it would now be solely used as a military detention camp.

The 1916 Easter Rising 

Photo Provided By Ron Cogswell – “Flag of the Republic of Ireland — The Kilmainham Gaol Dublin Ireland May 2018” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

On the morning of Easter Monday, 1916, a number of buildings of importance were taken over by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army (ICA). The group declared Ireland a republic by the group until, after a week, they were forced to surrender.

14 men were arrested and sentenced to death by execution by firing squad. The list of prisoners who were sent to death in Kilmainham Gaol was as follows:

  • Éamonn Ceannt
  • Thomas James Clarke
  • James Connolly 
  • Seán MacDiarmada
  • Thomas MacDonagh
  • Patrick Pearse
  • Joseph Mary Plunkett
  • Michael O’Hanrahan
  • Willie Pearse
  • John Macbride
  • Michael Mallin
  • Seán Heuston
  • Con Colbert
  • Seán Mac Diarmada

The War Of Independence 1919 – 1921

When Sinn Féin won the general election in 1918, they refused to join Westminister and decided to establish their own government, the Dáil. This sparked the Irish War of Independence. During that time, Kilmainham Gaol was used for members of the Irish Republican Army who were captured.

In 1921, the Irish War of Independence was put to a halt.

The Closing Of Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham Jail received an official closing order in 1929 by the Minister for Justice. This came about after the Irish Civil War which was sparked by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which gave up the six counties in Northern Ireland. Still, to this day, they’re governed by the United Kingdom.

Restoring And Preserving The Jail

Photo Provided By Sean Munson – “Kilmainham Gaol (Jail)”  Licensed Under CC BY-SA 2.0.

For some time after its closure, Kilmainham Gaol was pretty much an abandoned prison. A committee named the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee was set up in 1960 to restore and preserve the jail as a national monument. The prison was transformed into a museum and was opened to the Irish public on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in 1966.

In 1986, the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee handed over the running of the jail to the Office of Public Works (OPW) and they control it at present.

Where Is Kilmainham Gaol’s Location?

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided by Psyberartist – “Kilmainham Gaol” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

Kilmainham Gaol’s location is… Kilmainham, of course. It’s pretty easy to find as its location is near enough to the popular Phoenix Park and the Guinness Storehouse.

Address – Inchicore Rd, Kilmainham, Dublin 8, D08 RK28

How To Get To Kilmainham Gaol

There are a couple of ways you can get to Kilmainham Gaol. They include:

  • Walking: From O’Connell Street (the centre of Dublin), it takes just under 50 minutes to walk to Kilmainham Gaol. The walk can be easily done if the weather is good. I’ve done it more than a handful of times.
  • Bus: There are a number of buses that stop near Kilmainham Jail, including the 123, 13, and 79.
  • Train: No train in Dublin will drop you near Kilmainham Gaol.
  • Luas: Take the red line Luas and get off at the Suir Road stop. That will bring you close to Kilmainham Gaol.

Click here for more information about transport in Dublin.

How Much Are The Tickets For Kilmainham Gaol?

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Ticket prices for Kilmainham Gaol depend on where you purchase them. Some people book the tickets online through the jail’s website because they don’t cost as much as if you were booking them through a third-party website such as Get Your Guide or Viator. Admission prices pretty much vary depending on what time of year it is and the demand for the attraction of the day.

You can see the prices for purchasing tickets through the official Kilmainham Gaol website.

Ticket Prices

  • Adult – 8 euros
  • Student Ticket 18+ – 4 euros
  • Senior Ticket 60+ – 6 euros
  • Child 12 to 17 years – 4 euros
  • Child under 12 years – 0 euros
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 kids 12 to 17 years) – 20 euros
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 3 children 12 to 17 year) – 20 euros

What Are The Jail’s Opening Hours?

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Regardless of what time of the year you visit, the jail opens at the same time every day. But when it comes to the closing times, they vary from season to season. See below for Kilmainham Gaol’s opening hours.

Opening Hours

October to the 3rd of April – 09:30 am to 17:15 pm

April 4th to the 31st of May – 09:30 am to 17:45 pm

June, July and August – 09:30 am to 18:15 pm

September – 09:30 am to 17:45 pm

What To Expect On The Kilmainham Gaol Museum Tour

Photo Provided Bobfamiliar – “Day 1 – Kilmainham Gaol (3)” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

The Kilmainham Gaol’s museum tour is an outstanding display of what the prisoners had to endure during their sentences. It’s a jaw-dropping experience, to say the least.

The Stonebreakers Yard

Photo Provided By Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) – “Kilmainham Gaol – Dublin, Ireland – Travel photography” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

Walking through the Stonebreakers’ Yard, you’ll be given an insight into what it was like to endure hard labour. There was a set of huts that used to be along the walls so that it was possible for inmates to take part in solitary hard labour. As you can imagine, some of the jobs included the breaking of stones, cleaning, washing clothes, and much more. Imagine having to do those types of jobs in those conditions.

The Stonebreakers’ Yard was also the place where the 14 leaders of the 1916 Rising were executed. In the yard, there’s an Irish flag, a plaque, and two crosses to commemorate the fallen heroes.

The Wings

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided By Alanbatt – Pixabay

The west wing is the oldest section in the whole of Kilmainham Gaol. It has 79 different cells where visitors can explore to get a sense of where the inmates had to spend the vast majority of their time. Because it’s the oldest part of the prison, you can imagine how run down it is. There’s a real eery feeling as you walk through it. Once you feel that cold air, you’ll consider yourself lucky.

In the 1860s, a new wing was constructed and given the name “East wing.” The aim of it was to follow the Victorian Prison Theory, which aimed to make sure each cell could be seen from the central platform. This wing has 96 cells, with each of their windows being tiny in size and positioned at such a height that it made it near impossible for inmates to see out.

kilmainham gaol history
Jail Window – Photo Provided By Anosmia – “Kilmainham Gaol” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

Underground Torture Chambers

Photo Provided By Greta Farnedi – Unsplash

The torture chambers were an area of the prison where nobody wanted to find themselves. You’ll find them directly underneath the east wing, hidden away from any sort of human life. As soon as you start the descent down to them, you’ll notice how dark it gets. It must’ve been a frightening ordeal for anybody who was sent there.

A lot of the members of the Fenian movement were sent underground to the torture chambers. There has been evidence to suggest that a lot of the members that were sent there ended up on hunger strike for long periods of time.

The Chapel

kilmainham gaol history
Photo Provided by LenDog64 – “Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin (Chapel)” – Licensed Under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The prison of Kilmainham Gaol is home to two chapels, one for Catholics and the other for Protestants. Visitors can only access the Catholic one. It’s situated on the first floor and has a distinctive red carpet, along with a wooden altar.

Prisoners used to be given permission to attend the chapel every Sunday. Depending on the prisoner, the chapel visits were sometimes the only bit of human interaction they would have once a week.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kilmainham Gaol

Is There Parking At Kilmainham Gaol?

There’s no parking on-site at Kilmainham Gaol, but there are a couple of places where you can park nearby. One of them is the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which is considered to be one of Dublin’s best free museums.

For more parking spaces nearby Kilmainham Jail, click here.

What Are The Kilmainham Gaol Tour Times?

The tour times for visiting Kilmainham Gaol are every 15 minutes from the time the jail opens.

What’s The Duration Of The Tours?

Each tour of Kilmainham Gaol has roughly a 1-hour duration. At the end of the tour, there is a museum where you can visit and explore at your own pace. If you have a tour booked for the end of the day, it’s recommended that you explore the museum before, as the jail will close at its closing time.

Is Kilmainham Gaol Haunted?

Photo Provided By Mobilus In Mobili – “Kilmainham Gaol”  – Licensed Under CC BY-SA 2.0.

There have been numerous stories of visitors experiencing some sort of paranormal activity when they’ve visited the old Kilmainham Gaol. Since there were so many horrific events that occurred in the jail, including the murder of the 14 men arrested during the 1916 rising, it’s no wonder there have been reported paranormal sightings.

Were There Any Movies Filmed At Kilmainham Gaol?

Yes, multiple movies have been shot at Kilmainham Gaol, including In The Name Of The Father, Michael Collins and many more.

Is There A Virtual Tour Of The Jail?

Photo Provided By Bobfamiliar – “Day 1 – Kilmainham Gaol (4)” – Licensed Under CC BY 2.0.

Through this link, virtual tours of Kilmainham Gaol can be taken. They’re nowhere near as in-depth as a guided in-person tour, but they do the job if you can’t visit the jail.

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