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The New Kilmainham Gaol Visitor Centre

Last Wednesday, the new Kilmainham Gaol Museum Visitor Centre officially opened after months of restoration and revamping. The President, Michael D. Higgins, was there to welcome the new Museum as one of the ‘Permanent Reminders’ to mark the centenary of 1916. A special Reception for the surviving members of the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society and their families took place last night, the 5th of April 2016, at the newly-adapted Visitor Centre in the former Courthouse, with Minister of State, Simon Harris TD, on behalf of the Office of Public Works.

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“I am really happy to acknowledge the Restoration Society’s role in saving the historic Gaol from ruin,” the Minister said at last night’s reception. “There are three major eras in the recent history of Kilmainham Gaol. The Restoration Society first took over the Gaol in 1960 and, with the hard work of many volunteers, saved it from dereliction and opened it up to visitors. In 1986, they handed it over to the State and the Office of Public Works, took it into their care, and developed it as a major tourism attraction. Now, in 2016, we have started the third era of the Gaol in opening up the wonderful new facilities in the Courthouse as a Permanent Reminder of the 1916 Rising. However, none of this would have been at all possible without the volunteers who, in the first instance, saved this historic building and paved the way for its designation as a National Monument and the wonderful attraction we have today.”

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Also at last night’s event were the Kilmainham Board of Visitors. The Board was established in 1986 and is the inheritors of the tradition of the Restoration Society. “We are pleased that the Minister and Government have recognized the huge contribution of the restoration volunteers in saving the Gaol. A huge amount of work was undertaken over the two and a half decades after 1969. Many of those volunteers are, sadly, no longer with us but I am delighted that many that remain and their family members are able to join us in the celebration of the wonderful new facilities created to mark the 2016 Anniversary,” Damien Cassidy , the Chairman of the Board, and one of the volunteers that helped restore the building in the 1960’s, commented. In an interview with the Independent he said about the first time he walked into Kilmainham Gaol in those years, “Everything we did was voluntary, we insisted on that. I remember going inside at first and there was weeds and ivy on the floor. I remember seeing there had been an equal number of future Fine Gael and Fianna Fail supporters in both cells (held after the Rising).”

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In the early 60’s a film was made of the Restoration Volunteers at the site of the Kilmainham estate beginning the initial restoration work. This film was created by the famous filmmaker Leslie Crowe and was shown at yesterday’s reception. The Crowe family made the footage available and were thanked by the Minister for their generosity. The film will now go on display in the Museum as one of the many exhibits donated to the Visitor Centre.

The Minister said that a significant number of people have come forward and that he and the OPW were contacted by family members who are anxious to see their relatives’ work recorded and recognized. The Minister said, “We are absolutely happy to do that.” Kilmainham Gaol is hoping to attract over 500,000 visitors now that the renovations are finished.

Don’t forget to check out our own exhibition on Rising here 

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