Few attractions in Dublin, Ireland feel more sobering to me than Kilmainham Gaol. An Ireland heritage site, Kilmainham’s influence spans from the 1780s to the 1920’s, serving as a backdrop to multiple tragic and heroic moments in Irish and European history. It’s now one of the largest unoccupied gaols in Europe, and a great place to start learning about Irish history, particularly the Irish Revolution.
Families will want to take a 60 minute tour of the gaol; this is definitely the way to understand what you’re seeing. However, some of the stories told on the tour can be upsetting. For instance, we learned about a man jailed here for starting a political riot in the early 1900s who was permitted to marry his fiancé while in the gaol…only to be executed minutes after the ceremony. We also learned about the harsh conditions of life in Kilmainham, including drafty cells, extreme discomfort and cold, and manual labor, such as moving rocks in the stone yard for hours on end. However, we also learned that during the Irish famine, conditions were so bad in Dublin, many people purposely placed themselves in Kilmainham by stealing bread or some other small crime, just so they’d have a roof over their head and humble meals.
The halls and cells are dank and depressing, but the entire building is impressive to see. School-aged kids will be able to appreciate the stories and history and be wowed by the architecture (and the cool-factor of being in a big prison). Young kids may either lose interest or become frightened; you know you children and can be the best judge.
If you do opt for the guided tour, they are timed tickets, but cannot be booked in advance, unless you’re a group of over 10 people. Otherwise, groups are small: our tour had about 8 people present. We didn’t wait long for our tour time, even in the peak of summer. While you wait, there are exhibits to see.
Hours and Admission:
The gaol is open all year. Hours are:
April – September: Daily 09:30 – 18:00 (last admission at 17:00)
October – March: Mon -Sat 09:30 – 17:30 (last admission at 16:30)
Sunday: 10:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 17:00)
Admission is very reasonable at €4.00 for adults, €2.00 for kids and students, or even better, €10.00 for families.
Most families will rent a car in Ireland. If this is the case for you, it’s easy to get to Kilmainham, which is only 3.5 km from Dublin. The address is Inchicore Road, Kilmainham, Dublin 8. It’s also possible to take public transit.