Day sixteen: Kilmainham Gaol

Tuesday morning we jumped on another city bus and went through Dublin to Kilmainham Gaol. That last word starts looking like Gaelic after a few weeks over here, but its roots are British, like the gaol itself. An online dictionary offers the following definition, which I love:

    gaol: see jail, you tea-sodden football hooligan.

The jail was built in 1796, and housed men, women, and children in (insert various synonyms for “execrable” here) overcrowded, tiny cells. The bas-relief over the entryway clearly reflects the jailers’ attitude toward those inside.


Kilmainham is most famous for its role in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. Fourteen leaders of the movement were, following hasty “trials,” executed by firing squads behind its high walls over the course of several days.

One cross in the courtyard marks where the first thirteen men met their ends. Note the very tall wall, which the British hoped would hide what was going on inside from those outside. It didn’t.

Another cross, to the left of the wooden doors, marks the spot where James Connolly was executed. He was a Scotsman by birth, and a socialist who urged more radical approaches to gaining Irish independence than those being pursued by groups such as the Irish Volunteers; he was basically the Commander in Chief of the Irish forces in the Rising. Connolly had been mortally wounded in the fighting, so after holding him at Dublin City Hall, the British brought him to Kilmainham in an ambulance, carried him into the yard, tied him to a chair, and shot him.

The general Irish population, whose feelings about the Rising had hitherto been mixed, at best, were appalled at this vicious British response, and became increasingly sympathetic to nationalist groups that favored tactics of violent resistance. This popular support was a key factor in the success of the ensuing War of Independence (1919-1921).

On the way to the jail, JB and Mark embodied the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation, in a more modern fashion.


Tomorrow will be our final field trip, to see The Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin. The final exam will be served up on Friday, and on Saturday most of our group will head back to the States–though three intrepid travelers will head off to Scotland for another Study Abroad program. You can follow their blog here:


2 thoughts on “Day sixteen: Kilmainham Gaol

  1. Thanks for the winderful updates over the last several weeks. You should head up the “parents” trip next!

    Beth H.

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