Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, is an historic prison that opened in 1796 and closed in 1924. It is an incredibly important site due to its links to Ireland’s recent political, social and military history. It has direct connections to prisoner transportation (mainly to Australia), imprisonment during the Famine, the imprisonment of those involved in war and insurrection and the final moves towards Irish independence from GB. It has been a national monument since 1966, but previous to this time it lay derelict for over 40 years. This neglect has resulted in critical components of the prison archive and collections dispersing and the compound being in a perilous state of repair, which continues to be a problem in parts of the prison compound today.
Over the course of the next 18 months I will be creating a photographic record of some of the graffiti that was created by prisoners in the West Wing of the prison. As most of this graffiti dates from after ‘the great whitewash’ of 1920, the graffiti I will be locating, photographing and interpreting predominantly dates from periods of political imprisonment relating to the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). To date there have been attempts to record and interpret this graffiti, especially the fabulous work of Niamh O’Sullivan in the 1990s. She has published a book on this subject by Liberties Press Written in Stone: graffiti from Kilmainham Gaol http://www.libertiespress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=9781905483723
While O’Sullivan’s book provided a huge insight into the graffiti of Kilmainham at the time the quality of images is poor in comparison to contemporary standards and the methodology could benefit from recent advances in graffiti and institutional studies. As an archaeologist who has studied prisons I hope that an archaeological methodology – focussing on the loactional qualities and materiality of the graffiti – can provide revealing insights into the workings of the prisoner body, experiences of imprisonment and prisoner interconnections with the society that imprisons them. This project aims to locate, record and interpret remnants of this rare and endangered collection of murals, pictures, graffiti and incised inscriptions on the plaster walls of the prison. Fieldwork will concentrate on the West (Old) Wing due to the greater survival of graffiti in this wing. This blog will be used to upload images, discuss interpretation and try to extrapolate prisoner experiences of Kilmainham Gaol throughout the course of the project.