Restoration and Conservation of Kilmainham Courthouse

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Carved in relief over the entrance doorway lintel to Kilmainham Gaol is a representation of the Lernaean Hydra, a multi-headed mythical serpent which, according to the myth, grows a pair of heads if one is severed. There is no doubt as to whether or not an impact is made. The capacity of the entrant depends on how this is perceived, whether they are awestruck, or simply find it awesome.

Change in perception is inevitable but in buildings such as Kilmainham Gaol, impact never diminishes, especially when so intrinsically linked with events marking the State’s birth.

This project’s brief is straightforward; to improve the efficiency of visitor movement from arrival through to completion of a Gaol tour which culminates in the solemnity of the execution yard.

Relocation of the visitor entry point eastwards from Kilmainham Gaol to Kilmainham Courthouse presented an opportunity to relieve the Gaol of the burden of the perfunctory stages in a person’s visit; ticket collection and assembly prior to taking a guided tour. The relocation also relieves visitors of the discomfort of arrival in the Gaol entrance hall; too small and overcrowded to accommodate ever-increasing visitor numbers. 

In order to function as a visitor facility, the Courthouse required four new elements; a bridge across the entrance hall to connect the previously separated Grand and Petty Jury first floor rooms, ticket facilities, a bookshop and a café. These are strategically placed so as not to hinder movement. Their architectural language is restrained; the bridge is made from unpainted steel balusters and is placed in the space to ensure the entrance hall volume and formality is retained. The formality in the execution of other new elements and a palpable level of austerity in the decorative scheme ensures there are echoes of the character and impact of the original Gaol entrance; directly underneath the Lernaean Hydra. 


The project was phased across a number of investigation and repair Contracts, thus eliminating risks relating to time. The building fabric repairs comprised works to the roof, plasterwork, stonework and windows. 

A new Public Plaza integrates Richmond Gate with Kilmainham Gaol and Courthouse and completes a pedestrian link between this complex and the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.



Visitor Facilities at Kilmainham Courthouse

Design Team:


OPW Architectural Services.

Structural Engineers:

Malachy Walsh and Partners

DBFL Consulting Engineers.

Kilmainham Plaza:

Dublin City Council.

M&E Engineers:

Dervan Engineering Consultants.

Quantity Surveyors:

Leonard & Williams.

JJ Casey & Co.

Main Contractor:

Lisadell Construction.

Duke Construction.

Merrion Contracting.

PJ Hegarty & Company.


Ros Kavanagh