What must it be like in Dublin these days? WestJet has been flying direct from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the capital Irish city since June. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians roaming the streets. After they "cross the pond” on the 4 and a quarter hour flight, I’m betting there are a few Newfoundland reunions, over a pint, in many of the city’s pubs. Oh yes, I can hear the conversations now. Even the crowd from the southern shore are putting on thicker Irish accents. I haven’t got an Irish drop of blood in me and even I developed a pleasant lilt in my voice soon after I touched down in the Emerald Isle.
I had taken the train down to Dublin from Belfast in 2010 to interview the new Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Southern Shore himself, Loyola Hearn. Our official chat was about his role and how he thought relations between Canada and Ireland could improve. Hearn was keen on getting more young people from Ireland to work in Canada and specifically Newfoundland. Their economy was shaky at best and our need for workers was rapidly increasing. With the strong cultural connections, Hearn saw it as a perfect fit. Another goal on his “to do" list, by the way, was a direct flight from St. John’s to Dublin. I’m not certain Loyola Hearn is to thank for the new summertime route, but it wouldn’t hurt to raise a Guinness to the man while you’re there anyway. Who knows, he might be within earshot at your pub.
Mr. Hearn was thrilled to have the job and it was obvious he was enamoured with Dublin. After my recorder was switched off, we chatted about some of his favourite places to visit. When I told him about the few tourists spots I had planned to hit that day, he insisted I add another. “You really should see Kilmainham Jail,” said Hearn. So, I packed up my radio gear and camera and off I went for willing incarceration. Now, for some people, going to a jail would be a most morbid choice for tourism. You wouldn’t want to travel with me, then. Graveyards are another of my favourite destinations in unfamiliar cities. That’s for another blog entry. For now, let’s stick with Kilmainham Gaol, as it is called. It was among Loyola Hearn’s top picks for a day in Dublin and it is among mine too.
Cast your mind back now to an incredible movie, a biographical film based on the true life story of the Guilford Four. They were four people falsely convicted of the 1974 IRA's Guilford Pub bombings. Four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian were killed. Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon delivered a memorable performance with lines like this one: "I'm an innocent man. I spent 15 years in prison for something I didn't do. I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn't do. And this government still says he's guilty. I want to tell them that until my father is proved innocent, until all the people involved in this case are proved innocent, until the guilty ones are brought to justice, I will fight on. In the name of my father and of the truth!”
The movie is “In the Name of the Father” and it was one of many filmed in Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham’s history surely goes back a lot farther than this 1993 Academy Award nominated flick. It was built in 1796 and is said to involve some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland's history. It served as a prison for 128 years and its cells held many of the most famous people involved in the campaign for Irish independence. The guided tour is comprehensive and captivating. You’ll hear emotional stories about hangings and the deplorable conditions the inmates endured. Children were imprisoned for petty theft, some as young as 7 years old. Kilmainham's architecture is noteworthy as well. There are ornate bridges and railings in the East wing with a grand staircase running down the centre. Cells in this area were designed to psychologically torture inmates in solitary confinement. No, a walk through Kilmainham is not a scenic stroll across Dublin's adorable Ha’Penney Bridge (which I also highly recommend), but a visit to this dark dungeon is enlightening and educational and there’s nothing quite like exiting a jail to make you appreciate your freedom.
Below is a website with all kinds of information you’ll need if you want to plan a tour. If you aren’t travelling to Ireland, maybe you’d like to take a short visual trip and have a look at my photos in the gallery.