Kilmainham Gaol is a National Monument site in the care of the Office of Public Works (OPW) and, with 310,910 visitors in 2012, is one of the most popular tourist sites in Ireland.
The OPW's role at Kilmainham is to maintain the physical fabric of the site and to present it to the public through a dedicated Guide Service, explaining its 217 year history and its role in some of the key events in the formation of the State.
The site opens to the public on a fulltime basis, attracting significant numbers of visitors and sustaining a strong income profile. As well as its tourist and heritage attractiveness to visitors, it is also the preferred chosen venue for frequent formal events and functions of social, cultural, artistic, civic and diplomatic significance. However, its capacity to deal with an ever-increasing demand is severely limited currently by a number of key factors, most notably the physical limitations of the building which was obviously constructed with a different purpose in mind and which is not ideally configured to sustain an exponentially increasing volume of visitors. It is expected that further pressure will be an inevitable consequence of an expected increase in visitor numbers in the period ahead, particularly in the context of the interest generated by the various commemoration events over the next few years.
At current levels, the existing Gaol building is at absolute capacity and cannot sustain further large scale increases in visitor traffic without significant risk to the fabric of the Monument and to the comfort and safety of visitors.
A possibility for expansion was identified in the adjacent former Kilmainham Court House building which will be adapted and incorporated into the Heritage site offering. This will allow the Gaol operation to expand and will greatly improve the possibilities for strong continued visitor growth, while creating additional capacity to deal with visitors in a more modern setting and providing the needed ancillary curatorial, exhibition, research and welfare facilities which must be regarded as key objectives in a national heritage presentation of this type.
A public event was held at the Courthouse building in July this year when the Courts Service formally handed over the building to the Commissioners of Public Works, thus signalling the public commencement of this significant and important cultural and historic project.
The initial phase of works, which has commenced, focusses on the renewal of the roof fabric and later phases will address the substantive works needed to provide for modern visitor facilities appropriate to this nationally-important site. The project is targeted to be completed in time for the 1916 Centenary commemoration.