My guide, Elizabeth Lowry, hung back in the doorway. “The hairs on the back of my neck go up in here,” she said. “I think Anne Devlin haunts the place still.” I inched past her into the black dungeon beneath Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail, frosted glass crunching underfoot. “She was stabbed with bayonets and half hanged, offered 500 pounds to talk, and starved and tricked and ignored and left for dead.” Lowry explained from her doorway refuge. Lightbulbs rebelliously vault out of their sockets, so the room remains dark, cold, and clammy—just as it was when Devlin was imprisoned here in 1803. The housekeeper for Robert Emmet, the leader of a failed uprising, she refused to tell the British where he was hiding.
Dread still lingers in Devlin’s cell: As Sean O’Casey wrote, Kilmainham is “a place where silence is a piercing wail.” It’s fitting that In the Name of the Father was filmed here: Almost every important Irish patriot has been enchained at Kilmainham since the jail’s doors opened—or, rather, closed—in 1796, and the prison looms in Irish legend. One of the saddest stories is that just before being shot for leading the 1916 Easter Rising, Patrick Pearse wrote his mother to send love to his younger brother, William—never knowing that William was in the adjoining cell and would be executed the next day.
“When the British caught Robert Emmet,” Lowry continued, tossing her rope of hair, “they unexpectedly brought him and Anne face-to-face in the exercise yard, hoping they would rev...