The Kilmainham Gaol Tour: One Of The Best Tours In Ireland (Everything You Need To Know)

A tour you'll never forget

kilmainham gaol tour
By Peter Moloney Photography

Hands-down one of the absolute best things to do in Dublin is the Kilmainham Gaol Tour.

Yet so many people planning out their Dublin itinerary fail to add a visit to their list.

In the below guide, we’ll be trying our best to convince you to take a spin out to Kilmainham, either during your visit to Dublin or, for those of you living here, this weekend.

Here’s what you’ll get from reading this guide

  • An insight into the history of the gaol
  • Info about the Kilmainham Gaol tour
  • Advice on how to get here from across the city
  • Loads more

Ready to dive in? Let’s get cracking so!

Welcome to Kilmainham Gaol

Kilmainham gaol tour
© National Monuments Service. Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Kilmainham Gaol opened way back in 1796 as the County Gaol for Dublin.

A wealth of history lies within the walls of Kilmainham, making it a perfect place to soak up stories from Dublin’s past.

If you’re in search of things to do in Dublin today, then this should be at top your list. It’s fantastic from finish to end.

In the guide below, I’m going to tell you why.

kilmainham gaol dublin
Photo by matthi (Shutterstock)

History

The early days

Kilmainham Gaol was first opened in 1796 and was known as ‘the New Gaol’ at the time as it replaced a previous prison which was located in Dublin’s Mount Brown area.

As was the case with many 18th-century gaols, men, women and children were all held together, many of those running the gaols were cruel, and conditions were unhealthy.

kilmainham gaol history
Kilmainham Gaol. © National Monuments Service. Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

It was right outside the entrance to the gaol where public hangings took place up until the late 19th century.

Those that embark upon the Kilmainham Gaol Tour will be able to see the remains of the fixtures from the gallows, as they’re still in place today.

The gaols east wing was completely replaced in the late 1850s and the new design made it possible to see all 96 cells from a central viewing area.

The architects use of light was said to be both deliberate and philosophical.

It was thought that the huge skylight in the ceiling would spiritually inspire inmates, while the out-of-reach cell windows would encourage them to turn their heads heavenward. 

Prison life

Overcrowding led to many problems at Kilmainham, such as disease, poor health and hygiene.

kilmainham gaol dublin
Kilmainham Gaol. © National Monuments Service. Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

This overcrowding was mainly down to the use of the Gaol as a holding depot for convicts that had been sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Visit Spike Island Gaol in Cork – the place once referred to as ‘Ireland’s Hell’

The arrival of the Great Famine added to the overcrowding. Although food rations in the prison were low, people would deliberately commit crimes to gain entry to the Gaol to avail of regular meals.

kilmainham gaol inside
Kilmainham Gaol. © National Monuments Service. Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Prisoners were required to work within the Gaol. A sentence of hard labour for a male prisoner invoiced manually breaking stones in the Stonebreakers’ Yard.

Female prisoners were made work in the laundry. Other jobs involved cleaning the cells and common areas and providing care to those suffering with mental illness.

Kilmainham Gaol and the Easter Rising

The last two decades of the 19th century saw a rapid decline in the prison population across Ireland.

The Prison Board made the decision to close several of Ireland’s gaols in an attempt to save money.

Kilmainham was closed and given to the British Army. From the outbreak of the First Wold War in 1914, they used it as a military billet for new recruits and as a detention centre for offending soldiers. 

The 1916 Easter Rising (launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic) was devised to take place at a time when the British were occupied by the First World War.

The Rising lasted for 6 days (please do take some time to read more about this event), until the British Army suppressed the rebellion and Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, surrendered.

Many of the leaders of the Rising were sentenced to death and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol.

Between May 3rd and 12th of 1916, 14 men were executed by firing squad in Kilmainham’s Stonebreakers’ Yard.

I want to place a MASSIVE emphasis on the fact that the above history barely scratches the surface of what happened during this turbulent time in Ireland’s past.

Those of you that do the Kilmainham Gaol tour will leave with a richer understanding of the events that took place during 1916.

The Kilmainham Gaol Tour – everything you need to know

From the tour itself to parking and getting there, we’ve covered as many frequently asked questions as we could think of.

Have a question that isn’t covered? Pop a comment in the comments section at the bottom of this guide.

Getting from Dublin City to the Gaol

You can use public transport to get from Dublin City to Kilmainham Gaol.

Via the bus:

  • The number 69 and 79 from Aston Quay, Dublin 2
  • The number 13 and 40 from O’Connell St, Dublin 1, or College Green Dublin 2. 

Via the Luas

  • Hop on the red line (the nearest stop to the Gaol is Suir Road)
kilmainham gaol tour
By Peter Moloney Photography

Kilmainham Gaol Tours

Entrance to Kilmainham Gaol is via guided tour only. I’d recommend that you book your tour well in advance of your arrival to avoid disappointment.

Opening hours

The Kilmainham Gaol tour operates all year round. The only exceptions are the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December.

Here’s the opening hours:

  • October – March:  9:30 – 17:30 (last admission at 16:15)
  • April and May:  9:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 16:45)
  • June, July & August: 9:00 – 19:00 (last admission  at 17:45)
  • September: 9:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 16:45)

Kilmainham Gaol Parking

Car Parking: Unfortunately, Kilmainham Gaol has no car parking facilities.

You can park at the nearby Irish Museum of Modern Art/Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It’s a handy 5-minute walk from here.

Have you done the Kilmainham Gaol tour recently? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below!

Kilmainham gaol dublin
Use Pinterest? Pin me for later!
Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

2 COMMENTS

  1. OMG YES!! I can’t stress enough how absolutely AMAZING this tour was, perhaps even the best of my entire trip which included other wonderful places in Ireland, as well as Scotland and France. It was a sort of last minute decision and I was the only one in my group who knew any of the history surrounding the Kilmanhaim Gaol but every single person in my group LOVED the tour and learned so much from the extremely knowledgeable tour guides. At the end there is a small museum, don’t miss the letter from a 17 yr old young man to his mother before he is executed. It haunts me to this day and I have such enormous respect and admiration for every brave soul that fought tirelessly for their beloved free Ireland.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Karen. It’s been a couple of years since I last did it. Thinking about visiting the weekend after next! Great spot!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.