Steeped in history and with many tales from times past, Crumlin Road Gaol is a famous landmark in Belfast City and a very popular tourist attraction. It’s the only Victorian prison of its era in Northern Ireland and it’s of huge historical importance. And as it’s a Grade A Listed Building it’s of notable architectural significance as well.
Crumlin Road Gaol was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and was complete in 1845. Sir Charles Lanyon is also responsible for designing Belfast Castle, Queens University and Palm House in the Botanic Gardens. The Gaol stands four storeys tall and comprises of four wings. Its plans were based on The Pentonville Prison in London and inside its walls are 640 cells.
The first prisoners arrived in 1846 and were brought in chains after being forced to walk from Carrickfergus. There were 17 executions at Crumlin Road Gaol – the remains of 15 are inside the Gaol walls today while two were re-interred in Milltown Cemetery.
The last hanging took place in 1961. A Newry man by the name of Robert McGladdery was hung for the murder of Pearl Gamble. In earlier years children were also imprisoned in the Gaol and it wasn’t until 1858 that a law was introduced that protected children under the age of 14 from imprisonment.
Crumlin Road Gaol closed its doors as a prison on the 31st March 1996. An estimated total of 25,000 people were imprisoned at the Gaol during its term.
For the previous 30 years it operated as a remand centre for suspected paramilitary and terrorists who were awaiting trail. In 1971 three IRA men escaped from the prison after hiding inside a manhole for six and a half hours and scaling the prison walls with knotted blankets and sheets!
A number of politicians have spent time in the Gaol including former DUP leader Ian Paisley, and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Many of the Republican and loyalist prisoners were released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement. The remaining four prisoners were then transferred from the prison. Today paramilitary prisoners are now held in Maghaberry Prison in County Antrim.
In 2006 Crumlin Gaol was opened to the public as a tourist attraction. You can learn how the inmates lived, their conditions, and many tales of times past, including stories of executions and escapees.
In recent years the Gaol has played host to many cultural events – Frank Darabont’s world acclaimed film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ which was screened here in 2001. Crumlin Gaol also featured on another big screen film written by Oscar winner Neil Jordan, namely ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ which was filmed back in 2005.
The residents of North Belfast hope to turn the Crumlin Road Gaol into a money spinning tourism attraction in time, however future possibilities, plans, and many suggestions have caused a lot of controversy for the local residents. Some would like it converted and developed for shops, leisure centres and accommodation, which would create employment in the area. Others would like it developed into a museum.
The Crumlin Road Courthouse is located across the road from the Gaol and is connected by an underground tunnel. Future plans for the courthouse may see it converted into a hotel – these plans have not been confirmed, however and Crumlin Road Gaol’s future remains unknown today.
The Crumlin Road Gaol was open in the summer of 2008 (June to September) for daily tours. Unfortunately the Gaol has not confirmed if there will be future tours but please telephone 028 9024 6609.
The Crumlin Road Gaol is classed as a ‘Grade A Listed Building’ due to its history and architecture and is a prominent feature in North Belfast.
How to get here…
Drive east on A1/Donegal Square North towards Donegal Place. Continue on A20/Chichester Street. Turn left at A24/Victoria Street, take a slight left at A2/Victoria Street and follow the A2.
Turn right at Donegal Street and follow the A6. At Carlisle Circus take the 2nd exit onto the A52 Crumlin Road. Crumlin Road Gaol is located on the right hand side.
It’s a driving distance is just 1.6 miles and will only take approximately 6-minute drive. Car parking is very limited in the area and you may be lucky in finding a space on the main road en-route to the Gaol. An underground car park has also been proposed for future plans.
We hope our guide on Crumlin Road Gaol helps! If you’re heading to Belfast city in the near future you could also read our article Top Tips For Visiting Belfast
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