Sunday, 28 February 2010

It's only history..

I love playing tourist. It's something I don't do often enough. Sadly, in the grand scheme of life, it's just not that important.

But today, I got to play tourist. My playground? Kilmainham Gaol.

I've been there before, of course, but as a child, and I really didn't understand what I was hearing, or seeing. Growing up, I was always told about Irish history, from 1916 on mostly, and so, had an interest in it. It was one of the only sections of history in school that held my attention. (I'm a firm believer of what's in the past should stay there, usually)

It was different today. Today, I fully understood what I was seeing, and where I was. Reading letters from long dead men to their wives, walking along the freezing, eerie corridors and peeking through the doors of the bare cells, I really got a sense of life back then. It was all too easy to visualise the awful conditions the prisoners were forced to deal with, sometimes for the pettiest of crimes.

Hearing names, and being told of events past, sitting in a warm classroom is one thing, but actually, physically seeing the names, seeing the cells, it's a completely different experience.

As I progressed around the Gaol, I watched the non-Irish visitors, seeing our history through new eyes, hearing about everything for the first time, and wondered what they thought. It's by no means a pleasant history, it's bloody, and violent. Nothing I heard was new to me, and what was interesting to me and captured me the first time I heard it, are the same things that captured me today. I have the same opinions on it, though perhaps a better understanding.

There are some definite tugs on the heartstrings as you walk around. The last words of men sentenced to death for fighting for what they believed in. A yard, an excercise yard, for children, some as young as 8, sentenced to months in prison for stealing a shawl to keep them warm. Cold, bare cells, where men, women, and children were forced to live for the smallest of crimes.

And of course, for anyone who's visited, I think they'll agree, the most memorable part of the tour is in the yard, where the executions happened. Two small crosses to mark where men lost their lives. It's colder here than in any other part of the prison, and the romantic part of me liked to believe it was the ghosts of the soldiers, still with us (you can blame the late hour for that one..)

It's OUR history. It can't be changed, and it can't be taken away from us. We take it for granted. But, when we have such places, on our doorsteps, to visit, and remember, it's such a shame not to.