On 4 January 2017, the Office of Public Works Heritage Service launched a dedicated website catering for a rare collection of autograph books held in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum in Dublin. Availing of 13 autograph books, the website offers a fascinating insight into the lives of those who were incarcerated in Kilmainham Gaol, Frongoch, Belfast Goal, Dublin Castle Hospital, Dundalk Prison, Mountjoy Prison, Lewes Jail and Stafford Jail, during the period 1916 to 1918.
In the coming years, it is envisaged that the website will be expanded, catering for autograph books from the Museum’s collection covering the period 1918 – 1923. The overall collection covers a variety of different prisons and places of incarceration.
According to Kilmainham Museum, the original autograph books are the most requested items to view in its archive facility. The books are fascinating examples of material culture from the Irish Revolutionary period, containing prisoners’ names, dates and places of incarceration. Some of the autograph books feature autographs of individuals that were connected with the events of 1916 – 1923, but were not prisoners themselves.
The online resource permits direct access to high quality facsimile images of signatures, drawings, mementoes and dedications, providing a valuable insight into the lives of the owners of the autograph books.
Launch of Website
Launching the website, Mr Sean Canney TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, observed that “these volumes contain the personal signatures and thoughts of many people who were involved in the struggle for national independence and who sacrificed much for their country. The new website which has been provided by the Office of Public Works Heritage Service is intended to showcase this Collection and to, in a sense open a new page in the history of the Gaol, where members of the public can browse the Collection online and in turn share any material they might have themselves”.
According to Mr Niall Bergin, General Manager of Kilmainham Gaol Museum, “There is a wonderful opportunity to use this historic material as a spur to members of the public to come forward and share material of their own. We feel sure that there are many people whose antecedents were Veterans or who were later involved in the Gaol restoration effort in the 1960’s and may have valuable historic material such as photographs, letters, pension records etc, which will be a wonderful addition to the site and we would be delighted to meet with them and talk to them about what they have”.
The associated Project Management and Technical team were actively supported by the Kilmainham Gaol Museum Archive Team and OPW Heritage Services. The website was managed by Boston College Ireland on behalf of the OPW, and was designed by Roomthree Design. The digitisation of the original autograph books was conducted by Glenbeigh Records Management.
The website facilitates linking names in the autograph books with their respective records in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements and Pension Files. In addition a facility allowing individuals to contact the Museum staff with details of any memorabilia they would like to share is also available on the website.
Explore the Kilmainham Gaol Autograph books online.
Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796 as the new County Gaol for Dublin. It closed its doors in 1924. Today, the building symbolises the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 were detained and in some cases executed here. Many members of the Irish Republican movement during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21) were also detained in Kilmainham Gaol, guarded by British troops. Names such as Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin, Charles Stewart Parnell, and the leaders of 1916 will always be associated with the building.
It should not be forgotten however that, as a county gaol, Kilmainham held thousands of ordinary men, women and children. Their crimes ranged from petty offences such as stealing food to more serious crimes such as murder or rape. Convicts from many parts of Ireland were held here for long periods waiting to be transported to Australia.
Kilmainham Gaol Museum is operated and managed by the Office of Public Works. The Museum is opened all year round with the exception of 24th 25th and 26th December. Entrance is through the former Kilmainham Court House. The average length of a visit to the Museum and guided tour of the Gaol is 90 minutes.
To find out more information, visit the Kilmainham Gaol website