Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

A new vision for Crumlin Road jail

Crumlin Road Gaol
Crumlin Road Gaol

It was once home to some of Northern Ireland's most feared terrorists, but now Crumlin Road jail is preparing to throw open its gates for a completely different set of 'inmates'.

In recent years the notorious prison has become a must-see stop for tourists on north Belfast's 'terror tour' trail.

But now the prison that officially closed in 1996 finally looks set to get a new lease of life - as a conference centre. A spokesman for the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM) confirmed the move yesterday and revealed the building would re-open to the public next summer.

Two major restoration schemes to arrest the structural deterioration of the building are currently nearing completion.

"It will bring parts of the building back into use as a tourist attraction and conference provision," the spokesman added.

It has long been recognised that there is a shortage of conference space in Belfast and tourism chiefs will be urged to put 'The Crum' - as it used to be known - on their overseas guide.As well as attracting major businesses it could also compete to stage the annual conferences of local political parties.

It is also planned to test private sector interest in the jail by advertising a 'lease opportunity' for the old 'A' wing which once held remand prisoners suspected of paramilitary activity. Lottery winner Peter Lavery has already looked at part of the 10-acre site as a possible location to distil his premium brand whiskey Danny Boy.

OFMDFM took over responsibility for the jail eight years ago and has made it clear there are no plans to sell off any part of it.

The sprawling prison has a gruesome and bloody history. Its deputy governor Albert Miles was shot dead by the IRA in 1978.

Seventeen inmates were hanged in the prison grounds and buried within its walls. The most famous was Tom Williams, sentenced to death for the murder of an RUC officer in 1942.

Right up to the day of its closure the prison was Northern Ireland's main centre for terror suspects.

Background

Opened in 1846, Crumlin Road prison is the only Victorian era jail remaining in Northern Ireland. The 19th century Grade 'A' listed building was shut down as a jail in 1996 and has been derelict ever since. It was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, constructed from black basalt rock and built for just £60,000 on 10 acres. It has an underground tunnel to the old courthouse opposite, and four wings of four storeys that fan outwards from a central control area, known as The Circle.

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