It was heritage week. Getting into heritage week events is a bit like getting your children into a good secondary school in Dublin. You have to start before you might conceivably have thought it was necessary. The minute the brochure came out at the end of July, I attempted to book us in to three events. One was already fully booked but the other two came good. On Saturday we had a children’s tour of Farmleigh which, though led by a slightly forbidding woman, was actually very well done. She had stories from the last children who lived in the house (now grown-up Guinnesses) and she handled the crowd very well. It was her outdoors colleague who was less successful. His job was to introduce the children to the horses and donkeys on the estate. On the face of it, this was the easier job. However, he was the kind of man who likes to complain about his job and he told the utterly uninterested audience that you might think that he would be allowed to name the foals but no. That job goes to the general manager. And then when he goes on his holidays, the lad who looks after the horses doesn’t talk to them and they’re wild when he comes back. He would do anything with horses but he won’t get up on one, not for all the tea in china. And so on.
The mild success of Saturday was, however, completely eclipsed by the trip to Kilmainham Gaol on Sunday. The authorities in the gaol had gone to a lot of trouble and they put together an excellent tour for children. Firstly the children were given sheets of paper with their “crimes” and sentences on them (things like vagrancy, 6 months hard labour) and photographed. Then they were marched single file into the gaol carrying their crimes in front of them. Then they met the governor, Obadiah Bartley, who harangued each of them in turn for their “‘orrible crimes” in a strong Yorkshire accent. It was unfortunate that the Princess was the first child he came to as she collapsed in nervous tears even as Daniel whispered to her that it was “only pretend”. The children were then put in a cell, accompanied by parents, if they wished. Herself sat in the corner weeping hoping that the governor would not come to inspect her. The boys were already starting to enjoy themselves. On emerging, the children met prisoner 98 (an actor dressed up in prison gear) and went into his cell to see what he ate and what work he was doing. Even the Princess started to enjoy herself. Then they went out to the exercise yard in single file and marched around. Prisoner 98 attempted to escape and they ran after him and stopped him. Then they followed the Governor as he locked up prisoner 98 in the “smelly cell” in the basement. The Governor said that the children had all been good and he would pardon them. He then asked whether prisoner 98 should be released also but they were unanimous that he should be left to rot. Children have no bowels of mercy. They were then given their release papers.
The children were sufficiently reconciled to the Governor that they even got their picture taken with him and prisoner 98.