The Office of Public Works has officially received the keys of the former Kilmainham Courthouse from the Courts Service this evening.

The former courthouse occupies a site immediately adjacent to Kilmainham Gaol and has been vacant since July 2008.

The OPW proposes to adapt the courthouse building for visitor use.

It describes this as "a unique opportunity to create additional space to deal with visitors and to provide ancillary curatorial, exhibition, research and welfare facilities".

Work is already under way on the first element of the project, which will involve substantial repair to the external fabric of the courthouse by the end of 2013.

The larger project will see the upgrade and fit-out of the building for visitor use.

It will also provide a new entrance to Kilmainham Gaol.

The entire project is targeted to be complete by the end of 2015, in time for the 2016 commemorations.

Kilmainham Gaol is one of the State's premier visitor heritage sites, attracting approximately 310,000 visitors annually.

Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham said Kilmainham Gaol "is central to the history of our nation's struggle for freedom".

She said the interest in it is likely to increase as "we move through a decade commemorating the centenary of events, risings, strikes and struggles, which were pivotal in the building of the nation".