21 May 2006

Easter Rising jail gets new roof for 100th anniversary

Sunday Times

Mark Tighe
May 21, 2006

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usIT IS synonymous with Easter 1916 and now Kilmainham jail is to be refurbished ahead of the 100th anniversary of the rising. The east wing of the prison will have its roof replaced with a clear-glass replica of the original Victorian model.

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The Office of Public Works (OPW) says the work to replace the discoloured and bulbous-shaped roof with a “proper replica” will begin in 2008 and finish within a year.

Using a Victorian design, the glass roof was shaped in a triangular form, allowing sunlight to wash down upon the prisoners “to cleanse their souls”.

Scenes from a number of movies, including The Italian Job starring Michael Caine and In the Name of the Father, were filmed in the east wing, helping to introduce Kilmainham, Europe’s largest empty jail, to a world-wide audience.

The replacement of the east-wing roof, which has become warped and discoloured, will be the largest refurbishment work in the prison since 1966 when it was opened to the public as a museum.

Set up in 1960, The Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society saved the jail from falling into ruin. Lorcan Leonard, the volunteer engineer who restored the roof, said the work was “a monument to heroic endeavour”.

The jail has played a central role in Irish history having held leading Irish republican figures since it opened in 1796. Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell and Eamon de Valera — its last prisoner — were all held there.

Bertie Ahern began the official commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rising by laying a wreath in the prison’s Stonebreakers’ Yard where the leaders of the rising were executed.

Renewed interest in the rising has seen the jail’s visitor numbers soar from 14,000 in 1986 to a record 182,000 last year. That number looks set to be surpassed this year with an extra 20,000 already passing through.

Funding for the re-roofing comes from the National Development Plan. “It is the last piece of the puzzle,” said Niamh O’Sullivan, an archivist at the prison. “This will be a final tribute to the volunteers who rescued the jail as much as the prisoners. If it wasn’t for those men and women it would be a car park now.”

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