3. GRAFFITI

The graffiti recorded in Kilmainham Gaol centred on the West (B) Wing of the jail, which is the older wing. This wing consists of three floors with the bottom and middle floor arranged over three corridors and the top floor along two. The recording of graffiti (as described in Methods) was systematic along each cell and corridor starting with the corridor with cells on both sides (called Co1). The recorded started at the first cell on the left and moved down the cells, starting at the top end again before moving onto the next corridor (Co 2 and then Co3). Recording of Co2 and Co3 continued from the end of the previous corridor. As the numbering of the cells changed a number of times throughout the Revolutionary period, and often included the use of names given by the prisoners rather than just numbers, each cell was numbered from one onwards until the corridor was complete and the next corridor started again at one. The following plan reveals how this looks in practice.

Floor Plans

The plan for the middle floor of the West (B) Wing of Kilmainham Gaol. Co1 is also known as the ‘1916 Corridor’ due to the number of executed leaders who spent their last days and hours in the cells on this corridor. Corridor had the largest number of cells and also included the only corridor with cells on both sides of the corridor. In total there were 14 cells (include a toilet, which was also recorded) on the bottom and middle corridor with eight on one side and 6 on the other. There were 13 cells on the top corridor. Co2 had six cells all on the internal side of the corridor on the bottom and middle floor and 13 cells on on the external side of the top floor. Co3 had seven cells on the bottom floor and six cells on the middle floor. All the cells on Co3 were also located on the internal side of the Wing. A number of cells are marked on this plan of the middle floor  ease recognition.

Plan Middle Floor, West Wing Kilmainham Gaol

Plan Middle Floor, West Wing Kilmainham Gaol (with thanks to Discovery Programme)

 

Types of graffiti located

Many visitors to Kilmainham Gaol will be used to seeing an overwhelming amount of graffiti, much of it of relatively recent vintage, engraved or written over the last layer of whitewash and looking something like this:

Middle Floor, Corridor 1

Middle Floor, Corridor 1

Much of the extant graffiti of older vintage recorded during this project was found in the relative protection of the cells. However, as the cells were only locked permanently in the early 1990s there are a number of cells that contain graffiti even more layered and extensive than the corridors. Whilst this is rare take one of the walls in Patrick Pearse’s cell:

Fl1 Co1 C5-W1-DETAIL-2

 

The older graffiti that survives tends to date no earlier than the War of Independence period (1919-1921). It is often either engraved (usually under the last layer of whitewash / paint) or in pencil over the last layer. The text tends to be written in longhand rather than capitalised (a more recent norm) and there are often differences in content. Many of the last prisoners held in Kilmainham wrote not only their names but addresses, often their home counties, and even their arrest records, prisons records and military records. This following piece continues to survive in the corridors of the West Wing but is partial due to later graffiti but the top line is still readable and was written by a female prisoners during the Civil War. It reads: ‘Sheila Nagle 6 months’. Her name also appears in two cells and a number of extant autograph books.

Stairwell in West Wing. Signature of Sheila (Sighle) Nagle under later graffiti.

Stairwell in West Wing. Signature of Sheila (Sighle) Nagle under later graffiti.

That such survivals remains even in areas where members of the public travel – and unfortunately continue to graffiti – in quantity reveals how hardy some of this graffiti is and what amazing survivals could be retrieved nearly 100 years from when it was initially scribbled on the wall.

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