We gathered after breakfast and left the hotel for our drive to Kilmainham Gaol on the outskirts of the city, in fact the gaol which opened in 1796 is across the street from one of the few ancient remaining gates to the city. Originally built to house 100 inmates, during the Famine years of the 1840’s there were close to 2000 people housed there…as you can imagine, there was food and shelter and relative safety at that time.
After the Irish Civil War, the gaol was closed in 1924 and remained derelict until local volunteers began tidying and cleaning it up in 1965, prior to the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. My father and I happened upon the open gate on a Sunday afternoon, coming back from a golf tournament ( I was his caddie), and we went inside. The volunteer workers told us to have a look around and I believe I can say at age 11, I was probably one of the youngest and first people inside that gaol since 1924. It housed prisoners from five different Irish rebellions, 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and of course 1916….as well as Anti Treaty prisoners in the Civil War.
It is one of Ireland’s most visited sites and the fact that 14 out of 16 of the 1916 leaders were executed by firing squad there is a significant link to our history.
Suffice to say, our group was quite moved by the experience.
We dropped most of the group off at the bottom of Grafton Street, one of our most popular pedestrian thoroughfares and Paul picked them up in time for our final dinner together at the hotel. Following dinner, my sister Brenda and my brother Raymond joined us for a sing song in the hotel lounge. We enjoyed the presence of some other hotel guests including Spanish students, and visitors from Japan and Romania who sat and enjoyed our little concert.
It was a lovely finale to a wonderful tour and I must say, apart from my travelers from Los Angeles, Seattle and Nashville, the folks from Butte, Montana were so intertwined with locals and researched their relatives everywhere we went around the South West of Ireland, so many of them met new cousins and embraced some they already knew.
I will certainly lead another Butte group either in 2020 or 21, or both and I am also planning a tour of Ireland’s Ancient East next year….probably both in April.
Without question, I believe the gratitude and and excitement generated throughout the group has shown me that this may have been my best trip yet….
Hoping all arrive back home safely, some went on to other cities in Europe, some spending a couple of more days in Ireland, I look forward to seeing you all when I return next week…Go raibh mait agaibh go leir……Thank you all so much…Cionnaith….Ken