Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Volunteers attend special event in new Kilmainham Gaol Museum Visitor Centre

5 April 16

Simon Harris TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works today (5 April 2016) hosted a special Reception for surviving members of the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society and their families in the newly-adapted Visitor Centre in the former Courthouse next door.

The new Kilmainham Gaol Museum Visitor Centre, was officially opened by President Michael D. Higgins last Wednesday and is one of the seven ‘Permanent Reminders’ to mark the centenary of 1916. The Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Society was the volunteer group who, by their work, saved the Gaol from dereliction in the 1960's.

"I am really happy to acknowledge the Restoration Society's role in saving the historic Gaol from ruin", the Minister said today. "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".

The Minister was accompanied at the event today by the Kilmainham Gaol Board of Visitors, who were created following the handover to the State in 1986 and who are the inheritors of the tradition of the Restoration Society. Damien Cassidy, the Chairman of the Board said; "We are pleased that the Minister and the Government have recognised 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 1960. 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".

Minister Harris launched a public campaign in late 2015 asking people who had worked on the restoration of the Gaol over the years to come forward and make themselves known so that their contribution could be celebrated. "A significant number of people have come forward" said the Minister today. "Some of them were people who worked at the site at various times through those years. In other cases, where volunteers have sadly passed away, we have been contacted by family members anxious that the work of their relative would be recorded and recognised and we are absolutely happy to do that".

As part of the reception, the Office of Public Works also displayed a new film which has recently come to light which shows workers at the site in action in the early 60's. This film was created by the famous filmmaker Leslie Crowe, who was responsible for many films of ordinary life in Dublin in the 1950's and 60's. The footage on view was taken at Kilmainham and shows the Restoration volunteers in action at the site. "I have no doubt that many of the attendees today will be able to recognise their former comrades in the footage" said the Minister "and we hope that it will be particularly evocative for them. We are also hugely grateful to the Crowe family how have made this material available to us. We thank them for their generosity and we hope that the former Restoration volunteers and their families enjoy watching the footage".

The OPW intends, with the kind permission of the Crowe family and the Kilmainham Gaol Board of Visitors, to display the film in the Museum onsite where a range of memorabilia from the restoration era is already available for visitors.

ENDS

For further information, please contact Colette Davis, OPW Press Officer at 087 947 5552 or colette.davis@opw.ie

Photography will be available from Fennell Photography after the event.

Notes to Editors:

Background:

The Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society started to work in the Gaol, which was then in an advanced state of decay, in 1960. With the help of many hundreds of volunteer labourers, who gave freely of their time and skills, the Society continued to work on the Gaol for many years, ensuring that the building was saved from ruin and was preserved for future generations. Kilmainham Gaol was formally opened as a museum in 1966 by President Eamon de Valera on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The building was handed over to the Office of Public Works in 1986 and was declared a National Monument, ensuring that it would be fully protected and conserved for the Nation forever.