The Crumlin Road Gaol
Crumlin Road Gaol is a former prison situated in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The jail was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and was built between 1843 and 1845. It’s the only Victorian-era prison remaining in Northern Ireland and was one of the most advanced prisons of its day. On March 31, 1996, the Crumlin Road jail officially closed. The closure ended a 150-year history of imprisonment, Belfast conflict, and executions. During those 150 years, the Gaol has housed murderers, suffragettes, and loyalist and republican prisoners. It has witnessed births, deaths, and marriages and has been the home to executions of 17 men, escapes, hunger strikes, and riots.
Eamon De Valera, former President of North Ireland, was arrested for illegally entering Northern Ireland and held in solitary confinement at Crumlin Road Gaol for a month.
It reopened as a visitor attraction and conference centre. Today one can take a guided tour of the prison and hear about the history of the site from when men, women, and children were held within its walls through the political segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners.
Touring the Gaol
The jail has a deep and dark history that entices people to want to find out more about it. During the tour, one will see what prison life was like through the ages as well as the dark secrets that lie within. It is definitely a different experience.
The reception area of the Gaol is where prisoners were logged, completely stripped of their clothes, bathed, and given a uniform. There was a small cubical where they undressed and hung their belongings and these prisoners would not see these belongings again until they were released. Sadly, for some, it would be the last time they would ever see them.
The famous tunnel is located within feet of the main road. It runs from the Court House to the Gaol. Prisoners who were sentenced would be guided through this tunnel to the Gaol, sometimes over 100 prisoners at a time. Although the tunnel would have been overcrowded with prisoners it gave the feeling that this would have been a very lonely walk.
If a prisoner was misbehaving and needed to be reprimanded, they would be sent to the Governor’s Office, and he would have dealt with the prisoner as he saw fit. The Governor’s Office was also the place where prisoners could be married. If a prisoner was sentenced but was engaged to be married, the prison would allow their loved one to come to the prison and the Governor would marry them.
The Gaol cell is also referred to as the “Circle” where all four prison wings join so that one guard could see down each wing. It was here, in more recent times, that Republican and Loyalist prisoners were kept separately in A and C Wings with the ODCs (Ordinary Decent Criminals) being held between them in B Wing.
The Condemned Man’s cell is two cells joined together with an en suite bathroom. This was where the person condemned to be executed was held. The condemned man had privileges such as better meals, three assigned Prison Offers (who were there to prevent the prisoner from trying on his own life before his execution date), and clergy visits. The prisoner would be unaware that they were never more than twelve steps away from their death. A bookshelf in the bathroom is a door that leads through to the execution chamber.
A total of 17 men were executed during the 150 years of the Gaol. Hangmen were brought over from England which meant that condemned men or women could have been waiting months until their execution.
It was here that the body was dealt with after death. The final resting place for an executed prisoner is an unmarked grave within the prison grounds.
Events and Functions
The Yard Café & Gift Shop
Crumlin Road Gaol is a must-visit in Belfast, a visit to this jail makes one appreciate their freedom a lot more.https://www.crumlinroadgaol.com/