Kilmainham gears up for 100th anniversary of Rising

New visitor centre, bookshop, cafe and interpretive area being developed at gaol

The story of Kilmainham Gaol – one of the world’s largest unoccupied jails – is interwoven with that of modern Irish history.

The list of inmates at “Ireland’s Bastille” include Henry Joy McCracken (1798 rebellion), Robert Emmet (1803 rebellion) the Young Irelanders (1848), the Fenians (1867) and Charles Stewart Parnell (1881-1882). Many ordinary prisoners were also housed there throughout the 19th century, and it was especially busy during the Great Famine (1845-1850).

It is perhaps most notorious as the execution place for the leaders of the 1916 Rising. These executions, from May 3rd to 12th, carried out under the orders of Gen Sir John Maxwell, Britain's "military governor" in Dublin, helped convince many people to turn against the British and seek full independence.

Although just 1,500 rebels took part in the Rising, Gen Maxwell had more than 3,400 people arrested in its aftermath. Some 183 civilians were tried by secret courts martial, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were executed.


Of these, 14 met their end at Kilmainham Gaol, including the seven signatories to the Proclamation. Those executed included an ailing Joseph Mary Plunkett, who married his fiancee, Grace Gifford, in the jail chapel before being shot, and James Connolly, so badly injured that he had to be strapped to a chair before the firing squad. The Irish public was outraged at these secretive killings and those executed became martyrs.

Here are some of the key locations and upcoming initiatives at the jail.

‘1916 Portraits and Lives’ exhibition

Kilmainham Gaol will exhibit 42 portraits of 1916 figures, famous and not, drawn by artist David Rooney, as part of the RIA's 1916: Portraits and Lives book.

Sessions house

A newvisitor centre, bookshop, café and interpretive area is being built to the east of the gaol in the former Kilmainham Sessions house. This will allow for online bookings, increased numbers and a new gaoljail entrance, northeast of the east wing.

West wing

Dating from Kilmainham Gaol’s opening in 1796, the west wing contained no window glass or lighting in its first few decades. It mainly housed inmates jailed for failing to pay debts.

East wing

Reflecting the Victorian belief that prison architecture could reform inmates through enforced solitude, reflection and Bible study, the 96-cell east wing opened in 1862.

Stone breakers’ yard

On the northwestern edge of the jail, this was the scene for the executions of 14 of the 1916 Rising’s leaders betweenfrom May 3rd-12th.

Jail chapel

Joseph Plunkett married his fiancee, Grace Gifford here just hours before his execution.