Here, in the blood-red-walled chapel, altar gouged deep into alcove, one of Ireland’s most famous marriages is taking place. It’s May 3, 1916; the bridegroom has a look of the poet (and journalist) that he is: dignified, bespectacled, intellectual of mien. The bride – an artist – elegant, hair modestly covered, holds out a slim hand for the ring bought that very day from a jeweller on Grafton Street, Dublin.

And then they kneel for a blessing from Father Eugene McCarthy, the officiating priest.

Yet things are not quite as they seem.

For it is just before midnight – a strange time for a wedding; and Joseph Plunkett remains handcuffed but for the short exchange of vows; Grace Gifford, his wife-to-be (who would light up any room), looks into his eyes… not at the soldiers-cum-witnesses standing guard.

Immediately, the couple are separated until early next morning when they are allowed 10 minutes together – monitored by a man with a watch. No privacy for these newly-weds.

A few hours later, Joseph stands in front of a firing squad, a short walk from the scene of his marriage in Kilmainham Gaol.

His crime – as determined by the ruling British – was to fight in the 1916 Easter Rising; he and the 13 other Irish soldiers executed with him are dumped in a mass grave at Arbour Hill Prison.

Grace – who evermore recalls his selflessness and calm during their final hours together – never remarries.

Great British Life: Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. (Image: Chris Hill Photographic)

WE’RE IN KILMAINHAM GAOL, Dublin, and I’ll be honest with you: it’s not the most comfortable place in the world.

I mean, hang on while I clarify. (Unfortunate expression, in the circumstances, I know.) Clearly, one of the most recent of felons – Paddington Bear – wouldn’t dream of voluntarily swapping marmalade sandwiches for the lumpy porridge prepared for him here by Knuckles McGinty. (See a good old-fashioned gaol in a film and you can bet your bottom Euro it was Kilmainham: a Platonic ideal of a prison.)

What’s more, the cells we’re shown in this gaol-turned-museum are even less luxurious than the Sussex b&b we mistakenly booked recently. Tall, narrow boxes, with tiny out-of-reach windows, they look like tombs: which, for many, is exactly what they were.

Don’t get me wrong: this is genuinely one of the most fascinating, brilliantly guided tourist attractions I have ever, ever visited. (So much so that you need to book well in advance to guarantee entry. We got very lucky on the day.)

But it’s not comfortable, no.

For two reasons.

‘The youngest person sent to Kilmainham was a five-year-old boy,’ Tom (our amazing guide) tells us, as we stand in one of the endless, bleak passages off which cells-beyond-number line up.

‘B-but,’ I stutter, uncomprehendingly, ‘what was the age of criminality?’

He gives me a straight look. ‘There wasn’t one,’ he says.

We learn more as we walk through the strictures and structures of this gaol with its near 130-year reign of terror (from 1796 until it closed to prisoners in 1924). It’s hard to find one inmate, in this god-forsaken place, with a history you’d outrightly condemn. Especially during the famine years, when starvation was no excuse for ‘dishonesty’: as 10-year-old John Lane found when he was sentenced to 10 days’ hard labour for stealing potatoes in 1849. They cut the rations when they realised people were committing crimes just to get in and be fed.

Yet that’s not the most uncomfortable part.

Hearing about the actions of the British – in voices that still hold pain: that’s the difficult part. A part that – as far as I know – is never taught in English schools.

But do you know what? I wouldn’t have missed Kilmainham for the world.

DUBLIN. My first visit, and I love it.

Great British Life: St Stephen's Green, Dublin. St Stephen's Green, Dublin. (Image: Gareth McCormack)Great British Life: Molly Malone statue, Dublin City. Molly Malone statue, Dublin City. (Image:

The man with cigarette drooping from his lips, a fat pigeon in each hand and a gaggle round his bread-filled bag, outside St Stephen’s Green. On Grafton Street, the boy with card tricks and a Rubik’s Cube; the fire juggler.

Allie Sherlock busking – in her sweet, edgy voice: I’ve made up my mind/Don’t need to think it over…

The very Irishness of it all, from the bookshop with an Irish children’s section; an Irish biography section; to the statues celebrating every facet of its rich heritage: the fictional Molly Malone; the unfictional/fiction-focused James Joyce; Phil Lynott; Oscar Wilde. Almost everywhere you turn, somebody is commemorated, heard-of (by me) or not.

And then there are the pubs, where the singing is so large and loud, the walls bulge with it; so many pubs, they’re like stones in a stream of Dublin streets: you feel you could step from one to another without ever having to dip a toe onto the pavement flowing beneath.

I bypass the Guinness tour, (despite it being highly recommended by just about every TripAdvisor review/friend who’s ever visited Dublin), and head for Oscar Wilde’s house. This I really want to see.

Great British Life: Oscar Wilde House, Dublin City. Oscar Wilde House, Dublin City. (Image: Photo:

It’s a property relatively modest for the famous eye and ear surgeon (amongst other accomplishments) who was William Wilde, Oscar’s dad (six servants; two governesses). Built in 1760, it was the first to grace Merrion Square; when William and his wife, Jane, moved in in 1855 with baby Oscar, it saw its heydays beginning: this couple turned it into one of the most cultured and welcoming of Dublin salons. The young boy’s formative years were played out against a backdrop of learned debate, poetry and song (and gossip, too, undoubtedly). Bram Stoker, John B Yeats and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu practically had their own keys.

The treasures in the house are legion – including stunning neo-classical reliefs, designed by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and brought back from Scandinavia by Jane.

Great British Life: Oscar Wilde House, Dublin City. Oscar Wilde House, Dublin City. (Image:

But the treasures for me are more humble: such as the low doorway I walk through, just as Oscar did each night, into the bedroom he shared with older brother, Willie.

Though cave: just as in Oscar’s stories, the lightness of art is underpinned by a tragic vein: William’s sexual misconduct that led to a vicious libel trial.

The devastating death – aged just 10 – of Oscar’s little sister: a death that broke him and haunted him for life. The half-sisters who died in a terrible freak accident.

And the beautiful park that Oscar could see from his window, only open to well-to-do residents of the square. The poor children from nearby slums were most certainly not allowed in. (Does this ring any giant bells for you?)

I expected to be fascinated by Oscar’s house. I didn’t expect to feel a sense of heart-break.

Great British Life: The garden at Chester Beatty, Dublin Castle. The garden at Chester Beatty, Dublin Castle. (Image: British Life: Chester Beatty, Dublin Castle. Chester Beatty, Dublin Castle. (Image:

WE LOVE DUBLIN CASTLE – so very much grandeur, including the hall where the President of Ireland is sworn into office.

But the attraction that steals my heart is the Chester Beatty (and – can you credit it? – it’s free admission (donations, of course, suggested and welcomed)). The exquisite manuscripts that form part of its collection could have kept me there for days. A drunken prince, trying it on with a Chinese maiden as attendants look carefully away – reds and golds and blues hardly compromised over more than half a century. Carved Chinese snuff bottles; Persian poetry; miniatures from imperial Mughal albums; some of the earliest Christian papyrus in the world.

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty – dubbed the King of Copper thanks to his mining fortune – bequeathed this astonishing collection to the Irish people.

I’d return to Dublin for this, alone.

SOMEHOW, I seem to have plucked sadnesses from this long-weekend trip. Yet, no: it is full of joys.

And, maybe, anyway, a sense of melancholy is a fitting tribute.

Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

For more on the attractions mentioned, visit:;;;

Katie Jarvis stayed at Conrad, Dublin, in the heart of the city:

Great British Life: Conrad DublinConrad Dublin (Image: Conrad Dublin)Dublin's rich literary heritage blends with modern design at Conrad Dublin, which overlooks the city’s famed National Concert Hall, while the wandering paths of St. Stephen's Green are moments away. Guests can discover Dublin's history and charm with distillery tours, scenic flights, and experiences curated by their dedicated concierges, creating a fully immersive guest experience. For those looking to take refuge in the hotel an abundance of food and beverage options are available.  Anna Haugh at Conrad Dublin provides a modern Irish fine dining experience, while Lemuel's Lounge Bar offers international dishes, unique cocktails, and traditional Tea Time. The Terrace Kitchen & Social House has a seasonal menu and outdoor dining for the warmer months. 
Great British Life: Lemuel's Lounge Bar at Conrad DublinLemuel's Lounge Bar at Conrad Dublin (Image: Conrad Dublin)

READ MORE: Travel review: Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland