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Kilmainham Gaol to display exhibit exploring how health shaped Irish prison reform

Posted 30 January, 2019

An art exhibition highlighting health as a driving force behind Irish prison reform is due to open at Kilmainham Gaol Museum. 

Drawing on research by Dr Oisín Wall, from the UCD School of HistoryLiving Inside tells the stories of six people whose experiences speak to how much institutional change has occurred in the last fifty years.

Using photography by Derek Speirs and historic objects from Mountjoy Prison, the exhibition explores prisoners’ protests against unhealthy living conditions to the psychological strain faced by prison officers.

Also examined are topics such as self-harm, drug abuse, physical restraint, and violence.

“Health is central to the history of prisons, both as a focus for reform and as a weapon of protest through hunger strikes and other desperate measures. Each story shows how reform, health, hope, and fear have shaped the prison system that we have today,” said the exhibit organisers.

Living Inside will run be open to the public at Kilmainham Gaol Museum from February 9th to May 19th.

Admission is free but booking is required, visit www.kilmainhamgaolmuseum.ie to book tickets.

The exhibit is part of 'Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000', a five-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust which is tasked with examining historical topics that resonate with current concerns in the prison service.

Director of the UCD Centre for the History of MedicineAssociate Professor Catherine Cox is a co-principal investigator of the project.

In November 2018, a series of thought provoking posters on healthcare in Irish prisons during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were displayed as part of the project. 

An example of the artwork displayed on a bus shelter near Mountjoy Prison. Photo: Sinead McCann/Health Inside

Across eight bus shelters and two billboards, the collaborative public exhibition, entitled Health Inside, was the work of visual artist Dr Sinéad McCann and Associate Professor Cox and Dr Wall.

Health Inside featured material and images from archival photos woven together with quotes from Irish historical sources such as the 1867 Prison Inspectors Report; Correspondence to the General Prison Boards, 1885; the Prisoners Rights Organisation Report for 1978;  and The Jail Journal (1973-76).