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Late in 2013 we were contacted by a teacher from the International School of Dublin. Her class, she told us, was going on a school visit to Kilmainham Gaol in January 2014 and, commendably, she wanted to prepare the students for their trip so they could get the most from it. 

The teacher told us that the pupils, aged 9-12, were studying a history module titled “What’s the point of history?” and, as part of the module, the children were looking at influences and consequences in the history of Ireland. Could we recommend any resources, online or otherwise, that would help, she asked?

In reply, and after corresponding with the teacher, we set up a special section on our Links page under the title “Chain Reactions: Rebellions, Risings and Consequences” where the children could select sites we felt would help and which could lead them to other areas of interest. 

As the children and their two teachers seemed very interested in their project, and were looking forward to

their visit to our favourite prison, we decided to offer a prize for the best letter, postcard or report written by the children after their visit. 

Well, the visit went ahead and, it seems, the children thoroughly enjoyed it.

Word from the Gaol is that they were very well prepared, knew their history thoroughly and asked their guide lots of great questions about the Gaol and its history. 

The children themselves reported to their teachers that they had had a great time, and they were full of compliments for the Gaol staff and their guide who, they said, 'knew everything' about the Gaol, its history and inhabitants.

When they returned to school they set about their competition entries, which were then given to their teachers and subsequently passed on to us for judging.

To say that we were blown away by what we received is an understatement. 

Each and every one of the entries would normally have been a winner in itself and we began to panic – how were we going to judge what we had thought would be a very simple competition?

Here were letters to imaginary friends/family from adult 

prisoners bemoaning their lot, child prisoners suffering under the Gaol’s rigid routine, rebels hearing gunshots and rumours, prisoners under sentence of death, pleas for help, plans for escape etc. Imaginary newspaper reports of events in the Gaol vied with letters from within its walls.

Historically accurate, yet imaginative, each entry was ‘antiqued’ to look as if it had been produced a century or more ago. Beautifully hand lettered or written, the attention to detail on every one was incredible. Most had wax seals on them, many with insignia (produced by pressing a coin into the wax), while on others the wax was dribbled to look like blood. 

We gave up – we could not have one winner, they all deserved to win, so that is what happened. We decided to give a prize to every child who entered! It was the only way out of our dilemma.

There were fourteen children in all, and they were from three grades in the school – 4th, 5th, and 6th. 

A winner was selected from each grade and, from these three, an overall winner was chosen on the basis of historical accuracy, quality of art and imagination.

Prizes were as follows:

Overall winner - Pablo:
A full set of eight Kilmainham Tales books in slipcase (value €45) and a specially designed Certificate;

Grade winners (3) - Yasmin, Pablo and Hannah: 

A specially designed Certificate and two Kilmainham Tales books (value €30 total);

Individual Winners:
11 entrants were awarded two Kilmainham Tales books each (total value €110). 
The prizes were distributed at a special classroom prize-giving, with all winning entries displayed on the class walls.

The winners, of course, were the children – not just because they got prizes but because, with the obvious encouragement and support of their teachers, they gained something far more valuable - a clear understanding of Kilmainham Gaol and it’s pivotal role in Irish history from its opening in 1796 to its final closure and, hopefully, discovered that history can be fun and exciting.

We’re glad to have helped 


Pablo's winning entry is above left.

The school display on Prize Presentation is below, and the Certificates are shown above

N.B. These children also took part in the Peace Prom on February 1, 2014. See report on the home page here 

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