Day 2: Kilmainhaim Gaol (August 17, 2019)

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So Ireland *is* amazing. I’m trying to be careful not to mindlessly romanticize this place and “the people” here, but it really has felt incredible to start to get my bearings and meet some folks.

I chose to go with Kilmainhaim Gaol (Gaol is pronounced like jail, not gahowl, whoops…), because it was the “#1 ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE THING IN DUBLIN” recommended by a friend. (thanks LJ!) It was initially sold out for an entire week, which was devastating. I proceeded to read that there’s some openings for cancelled tickets every morning, however, which I was able to snag during breakfast at the hostel, along with a friend I had just met who also wanted to go. (Kind of like Hamilton c. 2016!)

So we made our way there and good lord, this place was heavy. The tour primarily covered the history about the many political prisoners who were held (and executed) at the jail for their part in fighting for an independent Republic of Ireland. (Against their British rulers, who ran the jail)

It really affected me hearing story after story of political prisoners getting hanged or killed by firing squad, while standing in the very places they were held and killed. It felt dissonant hearing about these light skinned women, men and children, who weren’t technically white, being persecuted for fighting for the liberation of their people and land.

I felt an immense sadness and dread thinking about the violence that freedom fighters (predominantly Indigenous peoples and all peoples of color) face still today in “America” and around the world.

We also learned about how during the famine (1845-1849) – which was caused moreso by economic forces than a lack of food) – the jail became overcrowded from an overwhelming amount of people getting sentenced for things like stealing food, prostitution, or begging in the street.

Originally, the jail was designed to only have one person per cell (to be more “humane”), but as more people were brought in they began crowding the cells and evening placed hay mats in the hallways for people to sleep. There were cases of children as young as five years old being put in the jail. And then because of the overcrowding – along with a lack of clean clothes and an insufficient diet – disease began to spread. “Twenty-nine prisoners died in 1849 alone.” (Every Dark Hour: A History of Kilmainhaim Jail).

Hearing that also transported me to present day “America” and our own system of incarceration and detention, and I felt like I might break down right there.

Thankfully – I also had ample time to read more stories about the rad women, men and children from the revolution in the museum after the tour, and I was left feeling nourished and grateful to have so much (more) to process.

Then after meandering back to the hostel, I took a nap, chatted with my roommates a bit (including a father and son from a small town close to my hometown in Wisconsin!), and proceeded to book a day trip to Howth for the next morning…

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