Cash Peters believes that visiting a dreary place requires you to make the best of it. And that's what he tries to do on our next stop today at Ireland's Kilmainham Jail. Opened on the south side of Dublin in 1786, it's one of Europe's largest unoccupied prisons and is the setting for some of the most important themes in modern Irish history. And as Cash discovered, it's also a great place to stir up trouble. He shows us around on his latest Bad Taste Tour.
The Bad Taste Tour Goes to Jail
by Cash Peters
Generally, there's nothing funny about prison life, and, frankly, Kilmainham
Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, is hardly a chuckle magnet. But it's an incredibly strange
and wonderful place. Together, the curator Tim Carey and I braced ourselves
for the worst.
Peters: "Where are we?"
Carey: "We're in the Victorian wing of the prison,
built in 1861. It's a large hall, three tiers, 96 cells. Many of your
listeners might know this from such films as 'In the Name of the Father,'
'Michael Collins,' 'The Italian Job.'"
Peters: "They were shot here?"
Oddly, this part of the gaol is quite beautiful, like a small cathedral. But
back in the 19th Century, conditions were awful. Prisoners were kicked,
abused, and punished mercilessly, and even then they got more respect than,
let's say, a radio journalist. Also, they wallowed in their own filth.
Carey: "That's the bath of the prison.
Every prisoner would have been given a bath every three months.."
Peters: "Oh my God, it's like a pit."
Carey: "Whether they needed it or not."
Peters: "It's dirtier in the bath than
Carey, walking away: "The prison cells are down here."
these are the prison cells - oh my God, this is horrible."
Peters, a bit later: "This is obviously the chapel."
Carey: "Chapel was compulsory.
You had to be Protestant, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic. If you weren't,
you were treated for insanity and put in the punishment cell until you
decided if you were Protestant, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic."
Carey: "We'll come back to that."
Carey: "No we won't. I've got a
Carey: "It's a complex issue."
Peters: "It's too much
for my brain to handle."
Ugh. Don't be fooled - even without creepy music, the place is frightening.
So many dark, narrow, dirty corridors. And back then you could be sent to
prison for almost anything - swearing, not paying your bus fare, or probably
one of the worst crimes in its day - setting fire to haystacks. It's true.
Worse still, when you got to Kilmainham, you found it wasn't a bit like the
photo in the brochure. It was bleak and gray. Like a prison, in fact.
Woman: "The place is chilling."
Peters: "You really feel it?"
Woman: "Oh gosh yes. You should go down to the parts that are less painted, the
bits where they haven't washed all the pain away. It feels like smallpox and
plague down there. You can smell the dead bodies. Nasty."
I have absolutely no idea who she was, I just found her walking around,
looking horrified, but she's right. Makes you wonder why anybody would even
be fascinated by this subject. But Tim is. He can't get enough of it.
Carey: "I've written a book about the
history of Ireland's main prison."
Peters: "You've written a book? Is it out yet?"
Carey: "It's a bestseller."
Peters: "Among prisoners?"
Carey: "Among the general public."
Peters: "How many people buy books about prisons?"
Carey: "A lot."
Peters: "You don't just
have a big family?"
Carey: "No, I don't actually."
Peters: "So where's the pain? Where's all the pain that woman was
talking about? She felt pain, she felt smallpox."
Carey: "She did."
Peters: "She has a very vivid imagination."
But you can feel something. In fact, Kilmainham is known across Ireland for
its unique hellhole qualities. Ask anyone.
Carey: "Very bleak, very eerie. They
say parts of it are haunted."
Peters: "By what?"
Carey: "Spirits. It could all be in the mind. It's like Shaw's
house in Dublin, they say the maid's room is haunted there."
Peters: "By what?"
Carey: "Spirits. I was in the room."
Peters: "You see, it's you again. The common
factor is you...everybody's just seeing you and think they're
seeing a ghost."
Peters, a little later: "Oh, I've always wanted to go to an exercise yard. Oh. It's not much when you get here, is it?"
Peters, a bit later still: "There's something really spooky here."
Carey: "Oh there is.
I've brought people here and they start to cry before you tell them what
happened. There's certainly a presence to the place."
really is, though. I'm not kidding."
Hm. Frankly, though, I was glad when the tour came to an end. The forty-foot
high walls, dark corridors, and dirty cells were reminding me of college.
Carey: "It's like you're in a really
Peters: "It's just
very depressing. They could have jollied it up a bit. I'm thinking flowers, I'm thinking neat little walkways; benches."
Carey: "That's how the women's prisons are now."
Peters: "I could write a book about
this. It's obviously very easy to get a bestseller in Ireland."
Carey: "Thanks very much."
Peters: "Three or four copies sold and you're right at the
top of the list."
Carey: "Excuse me - four thousand copies."
Anyway, the tour of Kilmainham Gaol is definitely not for the squeamish, or
for anyone with something better to do. But, if nothing else, it'll remind
you to stop setting fire to haystacks. I know I won't be doing it again. In
Dublin, Ireland, I'm Cash Peters for The Savvy Traveler.