West of the Guinness Brewery lies the rather more salubrious area of Kilmainham where you’ll find Kilmainham Gaol. The jail has an iconic position in the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence and came to symbolize both Irish political martyrdom and British oppression. Opened in 1796, it became the place of incarceration for captured revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, who were also executed here. Even after the War of Independence, Republicans continued to be imprisoned here, though it closed in July 1924 after the release of its last inmate, Éamon de Valera – later to become Ireland’s Taoiseach and president. Tours of the jail provide a chilling impression of the prisoners’ living conditions and spartan regime. Its single cells ensured that they were forced into solitary contemplation, and since the building was constructed on top of limestone, their health was often sorely affected by damp and severe cold in winter. Before embarking on the tour, it’s well worth visiting the exhibition galleries. The ground floor display includes a mock-up of a cell and an early mug-shot camera, and there is a small side gallery showing paintings by Civil War internees and a huge self-portrait of Constance Gore-Booth (better known as the Countess Markiewicz) as the Good Shepherd. The upstairs gallery provides an enthralling account of the struggle for independence with numerous mementos, old cinematic footage of Michael Collins and the letter ordering the release of Charles Stewart Parnell.
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