Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796. During its brutal 128-year history, it saw the internment of 150,000 people, from cold-blooded murderers to children convicted of petty crimes. Records show that 9,000 people were locked up in 1850 alone, for the apparent crime of being poor and having to steal food and other essentials just to survive.
Male and female prisoners shared grim, candle-lit cells – sometimes with as many as 5 inmates per cell. While men would sleep on an iron bed, women and children would be expected to sleep on the floor. Remember too that in those days, there were no en suite bathrooms, no heating, and no natural light. The facilities may have been “modern” for their time, but they were barbaric – and of course, some of the prison guards would have been savages too.
Executions also took place at the jail. Some of the earliest inmates were publicly hanged at the gates to set an example to those on the outside, while the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed by firing squad in the yard.
The jail closed in 1924 and was left abandoned for more than 25 years. Unsurprisingly, despite all the repairs, updates, and cleaning, the gruesome history of Kilmainham Gaol has left a dark imprint on the building we see today.
Restoration of the jail was overseen by the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee and took a decade to complete. During the early phases, Governor Dan McGill and his family moved into the old warden’s quarters to oversee the work and to maintain security.
One night, having secured the property and turned off the lights throughout, Dan returned to his quarters. Looking out the window, he noted that the lights were on in the chapel, but he was sure that he had turned them off. On investigation, he found that the chapel was empty, and he made doubly sure the lights were turned off as he left. When he returned to his quarters, he saw that the lights were on again in the deserted building. After a few ventures back and forth, switching off the lights each time and seeing them switched on when he returned to his quarters, he gave up and left whoever (or whatever) it was to it.
Other workers regularly heard footsteps approaching and then passing them while they were at work. One reported hearing the footsteps approaching and then feeling the sensation of “something” passing straight through him, while the sound of soldiers marching in another deserted area caused alarm to those working there. Another workman had a more terrifying, “hands-on” encounter while working in the dungeons. While painting, he was suddenly thrown across the room and pinned to the wall by an unseen force. He struggled for a few moments before being able to make his escape. Unharmed but very shaken, he vowed never to return to the area again.
Today, Kilmainham Gaol is a popular tourist attraction, but children will sometimes refuse to enter the building.
Paranormal activity continues to be experienced by staff and visitors alike. Heavy footsteps are still heard in parts of the old prison and lights are still known to turn on and off by themselves. Tour guides have also shared their visitor’s experiences of cold spots, hearing disembodied voices and doors slamming. Reports of people being shoved by unseen hands and a dark, malevolent presence in the chapel are also on file.
Visited the old prison with my wife. It’s a very interesting tour, sad to hear what went on there and the place feels very spooky as if someone is watching your every move, my wife felt scared. It’s not a place I’d like to spend a night in. We definitely left with the opinion this place is genuinely haunted and very scary.
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