Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin  

Founded in 1796 as Dublin's 'New Gaol', Kilmainham operated as a prison until 1924. During its history, the gaol contained not only ordinary criminals including women and children, but also political prisoners. During the famine, some people committed crimes in order to be admitted into the prison, where they were at least guaranteed a basic diet. The Gaol was so crowded in those years that prisoners slept in the corridors.


Famous internees at Kilmainham Gaol included Robert Emmet, Charles Stuart Parnell, and the leaders of the Easter Rising. It was also used as a prison during the War of Independence and its aftermath.


Fourteen leaders of the Easter Rising were shot in the Stonebreakers' Yard; James Connolly, who had been wounded, had to be tied to a chair to support him during his execution. The Rising and their deaths marked a turning point in Irish history.


The nationalist politician Charles Stuart Parnell was arrested in 1881 on a charge of "sabotaging the Land Act", after he had criticised the British government's new Land Act and warned of a possible violent reaction. In April and May 1882, Parnell negotiated an agreement with the British government known as the 'Kilmainham Treaty'. In this unwritten agreement, Parnell agreed to co-operate in return for more extensive land reforms. The British hoped that this would put a stop to violence in Ireland, but just a few days later the new Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was murdered in Phoenix Park.  

  The first executions of the Easter Rebels took place in the early morning of the fourth of May 1916. Patrick Pearse was shot first, followed by Thomas Clarke and Thomas McDonagh. The marksmen aimed at white crosses affixed over the hearts of the condemned men. Some of the executioners were issued with dummy bullets so they would not know who had actually killed the republican leaders.
    On May 5th, John McBride followed his comrades into death. Three days later, Con Colbert, Eamon Ceannt, Michael Mallon and Sean Heuston were killed. Sean McDermott died on May 12th.
    The Irish public had until this point been ambivalent towards the actions of the rebels. Ireland was engaged in the First World War on Britain's side at the time, and many Irish men and boys had gone to fight. When the rebellion unfolded, some members of the public were supportive towards the British troops, and after the collapse of the Rising the rebels were jeered and spat at in the streets of Dublin. However, the executions changed the nation's mood completely.

The socialist James Connolly was the last of the rebels to be shot. His wounds inflicted during the Rising had turned gangrenous, and he was not able to stand. He died bound to a chair in the corner of the Stonebreakers' Yard.

Connolly was a former soldier who had joined the Socialist League in 1889. He moved from Scotland to Dublin where he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He also spent some years in America where he continued to be active in socialist politics. Returning to Dublin, he founded the Irish Labour Party in 1912, and after the Dublin Lockout he acted as co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.

Connolly was instrumental in persuading the leaders of the Irish Volunteers to go ahead with the Easter Rising. On their surrender, he told his men "Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free." Badly wounded, he was held in the 'Connolly Room' at Dublin Castle and transferred to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham before his execution.