To mark its re-opening following the Covid-19 lockdown, Kilmainham Gaol Museum has mounted a special exhibition of artworks and other commemorative items related to the struggle for Irish independence. Most of these items have either not been on display for many years, or have never been publicly exhibited before. Among the items on display are two busts by the sculptor James Power. One depicts Edward Daly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising who was executed in Kilmainham Gaol on 4 May, 1916. This plaster bust was a study for a larger statue of Daly which forms part of Limerick City’s 1916 Memorial. The second James Power work depicts Peadar Kearney, the author of the lyrics of the national anthem, and a veteran of the 1916 Rising and War of Independence.
Another of the pieces on display with a particular connection to Kilmainham Gaol is a small model of the Phoenix Park memorial to 1916 leader Seán Heuston by sculptor Laurence Campbell. Heuston was also executed in Kilmainham after the Rising, and some of the funds to erect his memorial were raised through the proceeds of an open day held in 1938 in the then abandoned Kilmainham Gaol.
The exhibition also includes the original model for the statue of Anne Devlin by the artist Clodagh Emoe which now stands in Rathfarnham . The statue was commissioned and erected in 2003 by the Emmet & Devlin Committee to mark the bicentenary of the Emmet Rebellion, and they have very generously agreed to lend this maquette to the Museum for the exhibition. Anne Devlin was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol for several years as a result of her involvement in Emmet’s 1803 rebellion and, despite brutal treatment, refused to reveal any information about Emmet and his associates. Her statue in Rathfarnham is one of only a handful of statues depicting women in Dublin.
‘Kilmainham Unlocked’ is just one of five new exhibitions and displays which have been mounted in the museum while it has been closed. These include a major exhibition on ‘The Forgotten Ten’ who were executed in Mountjoy Prison during the War of Independence. There are also new displays related to the killing of Dick McKee, Peadar Clancy and Conor Clune in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in November 1920, as well as the shooting of Seán Treacy on Talbot Street on 11 October 1920. 2020 also marked the 200th anniversary of the opening of Kilmainham Courthouse, and this was marked by an exhibition which tells the fascinating story of a revolt led by Daniel O’Connell at a meeting of the Freeholders of Dublin held there in December 1820.
Speaking about ‘Kilmainham Unlocked’, Kilmainham Gaol Museum Collections Curator Brian Crowley, said: “Being closed during lockdown really brought home that Kilmainham Gaol and its historic collections only really come alive when we can share them with our visitors. With ‘Kilmainham Unlocked’ we wanted to display some amazing objects from our collection which hadn’t been seen by the public for many years as a way of welcoming people back to the building.”
Admission to Kilmainham Gaol Museum and all Office of Public Works heritage sites is free for the rest of 2021. Those who wish to have an escorted visit of the building must book in advance at www.kilmainhamgaolmuseum.com. Those who only wish to view the exhibitions should email firstname.lastname@example.org