President of Ireland warns against ‘amnesia about the past’ at official visit to Wicklow’s Historic Gaol

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins has warned that amnesia about the past is of ‘no use whatsoever’ in the context of achieving future peace.

The president was speaking during an official visit to Wicklow Historic Gaol today, where he was joined by his wife, Sabina.

President Higgins visited the cell of Robert Erskine Childers, (the father of former President Erskine Hamilton Childers), the father of former

President Erskine Hamilton Childers), who spent a brief period in the Gaol before being brought to Dublin for execution during the Civil War.

Following the tour, the President told those gathered that “In relation to those responsible for great acts of vengeance and retribution, there is no point in imagining that these events did not take place. Amnesia is not an option. It is no use whatsoever in relation to present reconciliations and future opportunities for peace.”

“The Irish people were jailed for the pettiest of crimes.  Many were sent to the colonies, never to return.  The Gaol allows us to link back with our shared past, which is of profound importance.”

We can use our imaginations to place ourselves in the minds of those who were often undertaking what appeared to be adventures, which could only have a tragic outcome.  As buildings change new life can be breathed into the ruins.”

The president recalled his own father who had spent time in Limerick Prison and later in the Curragh in the 1920’s, and the terrible overcrowding of cells at the time.

 “Someone who was in the Curragh at the same time as my father, told me that as many as eight people were piled on top of each other in one single cell.  It is important to listen to the stories of single cells and double cells in times when administering conditions in prisons.”

“Discretion is the one thing that strikes one in relation to prisons.  Prisons are about taking away discretion in relation to time, body and movement.”

The President described Wicklow Historic Gaol as one of the country’s most important heritage sites, complimenting the building’s remarkable upgrade.

“We’re able to engage with something that is very real, without devaluing the brutality and horror of the human suffering.  The echoes are clearly heard in the stories told in this facility. History enables us to Interpret and craft our collective future.”

This is the first presidential visit to the former prison since it was opened as an historic tourist attraction in 1998 by the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

The presidential visit follows the recent €240,000 transformation of the Gaol, which was funded by Fáilte Ireland and Wicklow Enterprise Park.

Blaise Treacy, Chairman of Wicklow Enterprise Park described the Presidential visit as a momentous occasion for Wicklow Historic Gaol:

“It is a huge honour for any organisation to receive the President of Ireland.  This is an historic moment for Wicklow Historic Gaol and a very significant occasion for management, staff and the entire local community.  President Higgins is keenly interested in Irish history and we believe the new experience will leave a lasting impression on him.”

The newly refurbished experience at Wicklow Gaol is designed to bring history to life. Holographic projections of cruel gaolers, lifelike mannequins of major historic figures and state of the art audio-visual systems recreate the sounds of the defiant cries of the 1798 rebels, the famine era, the War of Independence and Civil War.  The replica two-deck convicttransport ship now features holographic interaction with the ship’s Captain as visitors climb aboard the torturous 200-day journey to New South Wales.

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