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Kilmainham display marks centenary of its last prisoners
Kilmainham Pic: RollingNews.ie

07 Nov 2023 / culture Print

Kilmainham centenary display for last prisoners

An Office of Public Works (OPW) Kilmainham Gaol exhibition marks 100 years since the last prisoners were imprisoned there, and features several items never before seen on public display.

The final prisoners, held from October 1923 to January 1924, included republican leaders such as Ernie O’Malley, Austin Stack and Peadar O’Donnell, who were one week into a 41-day hunger strike on arriving at Kilmainham.

Éamon de Valera was also transferred to Kilmainham 100 years ago, though he was kept in isolation on the west wing of the gaol, where he played handball with the prison governor.

De Valera was transferred to Arbour Hill early in January 1924 along with the other prisoners.

O’Malley was left behind due to his poor health. He wrote on 11 January 1924 that he was the only prisoner left in Kilmainham.

He was moved to St Bricin’s Military Hospital shortly after that, making him the last prisoner to be held in Kilmainham Gaol.

The exhibition also includes Peadar O’Donnell’s handwritten will, which he wrote on 16 October, two days after the hunger strike started. It ended just over a month before Christmas.

It also includes a souvenir decorative scroll signed by 24 prisoners who ate Christmas dinner in the east wing.

Dutch revolutionary

A two-volume biography of the 17th century Dutch revolutionary Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which belonged to Austin Stack, is also on display.

Stack loaned it to Ernie O’Malley, who said it allowed him to escape into his imagination where he “followed the Dutch people in their stubbornly heroic wars”.

O’Malley was a voracious reader, and the exhibits include a letter he wrote to a republican named Kay Brady who was in New York at the time.

In it, he asked her to send him books on art and literature – including works by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. The letter is being shown alongside a two-volume set of the collected works of the poet Francis Thompson, which O'Malley also read in prison.

Gazette Desk
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