I simply cannot resist a grim Victorian prison. And fortunately I was able to score tickets to tour Kilmainham Gaol Museum in Dublin. This grim stone pile was built in 1796 and extensively refurbished to the latest fashions in Victorian penal philosophy in the mid-19th century. This includes the ‘panopticon’ design that allowed one warder to keep an eye on all three levels packed with 90 cells, and the notion of solitary confinement. Today we agree it is a cruel practice, but in the day it was held to be an improvement over the Dickensian jails where all the prisoners, of every age and gender, were crammed into one room to prey upon each other.
The history of Kilmainham is especially sad because it’s tied unto the sanguinary history of Ireland. This was not only where rebels were executed by the British. It was also where various local factions executed each other. They have photos, even the letters, from various prisoners who died in these stony courtyards.