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Michael D Higgins calls for Republic to make 1916 leaders proud

President Michael D Higgins has called on people to keep building a Republic which the 1916 leaders would be proud of.

At the opening of a new visitor centre in Kilmainham Gaol, the President paid tribute to the volunteers who restored the ruined prison 50 years ago.

Mr Higgins said there can be no doubting the prison’s importance in Irish history.

“In its current life as a museum it fulfils a new and essential role, in enabling all of our citizens to engage with history and commemoration in a way that is inclusive, ethical, and honest,” he said.

The new visitor centre is on the site of the old courthouse which was handed over to the Office of Public Works in 2013.

A building which dates back to 1820, it is now home to a coffee shop, bookshop and interpretative displays.

It includes photographs, artefacts and the diaries and autograph books of prisoners jailed during the War of Independence and the civil war.

“These personal perspectives of those incarcerated are of such great value,” the President said.

“They indicate a selflessness, echoing the valiant courage which so defined those who fought with commitment for an Ireland of justice, equality and freedom, as well as allowing a unique access to the emotions and the insights of those detained here.”

Some of the inscriptions include that by Hannah Moynihan, who was imprisoned here during the War of Independence.

In October 1923 she described Kilmainham as a “dark, gloomy place with long, dreary passages”.

She added: “Sis (Power) and I have been making our ‘house’ beautiful, and on the door we have chalked ‘The Invincible’ – rather conceited!”

Patrick Gilligan, writing from cell 16 during the Civil War wrote: “Tis not who can inflict most, Tis who can endure most will triumph in the end.”

While Peter Radcliffe added in the same year: “Why were prisons built, and what was man’s intent, in building for his fellow man, such places of torment?”

President Higgins laid a wreath in the Stone Breakers’ yard in Kilmainham on Sunday where 14 of the rebel leaders were executed by firing squad.

He said it was a “most moving ceremony”.

“The monument to those shot confronts all of the visitors to this place with the final moments of the leaders of the Rising, in a most arresting and affecting manner,” he said.

President Higgins said upcoming commemorations, in particular the Civil War, will create more “difficult and painful processes of remembering” and Kilmainham will again be central to that.

“As we commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising let us do so in a spirit of determination to honour the deaths of those brave leaders who died in Kilmainham Gaol in 1916, and with respect for a full appreciation of their lives and action, and the context in which these were transacted,” he said.

“They died imagining a brave new Ireland, and we must continue the work of building a Republic of which our founders would be proud; a nation rooted in courage, vision and a profound spirit of generous humanity.

“In the commemorations to follow in the coming decades we will be called to summon up forgiveness and achieve a healing.”

Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796 and remains one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Europe.

It was decommissioned as a prison in 1924, restored as a museum 50 years ago and has been designated a National Monument.

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It takes in 330,000 visitors a year and to mark the opening of the visitors’ centre the first 5,000 online bookings for April and May will be free.

President Higgins said Irish people owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all the volunteers, many of whom had also fought in the Rising and the War of Independence, who led the restoration.

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