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£235,000 job to strip out deadly asbestos won't shut Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol

By John Mulgrew

Published 07/04/2016

The exterior of the tourist attraction
The exterior of the tourist attraction
Inside the historic prison

Almost £250,000 is being spent on removing asbestos from Crumlin Road Gaol, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

It is understood that the tourist attraction will remain open while the work, which is in a section of the building closed to the public, is carried out.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), which is responsible for the building, said the work would not affect an area occupied by the Belfast Distillery Company.

The firm, owned by lottery millionaire Peter Lavery, is building a distillery in the former prison.

Before the asbestos work started, a tender was issued for the job, which was valued at £235,000.

A spokesman for OFMDM said the work was due to be completed soon. "Since taking over the Crumlin Road Gaol, OFMDFM has undertaken extensive testing and remediation work," he added.

The spokesman said the area where the asbestos clear-up is being carried out is not accessible to the general public and there is no risk to visitors.

"The need for unforeseen remediation during construction projects is fairly common in buildings like the gaol that are over 170 years old.

"OFMDFM did tender in October 2015 for services to remove trace amounts of asbestos found in an area of the gaol not accessible by the public, as safety is our priority. This was not in the area occupied by Belfast Distillery Company."

The spokesman also warned that while work was due to finish soon, "the need for further remediation is anticipated as restoration of the gaol moves forward".

Since it was reopened to the public for tours in 2009, following a sell-out success a year earlier, Crumlin Road Gaol has become one of Belfast's top tourist sites.

The Grade A Listed building, which dates back to 1845, closed its doors as a working prison during 1996.

During its 150 years as an active prison, it played host to a number of famous inmates.

Among them were politicians from across the sectarian divide, including Eamon De Valera, Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson.

The layout of the prison, designed by Charles Lanyon, was based on London's Pentonville.

Aside from regular tours and paranormal night visits to the jail, it also plays host to live gigs, including those with a prison theme, such as a tribute to Johnny Cash's famous Folsom Prison concert.

During the lifetime of the prison, a total of 17 men were executed by hanging. Their bodies were subsequently buried within the building's walls. Among those hanged was Robert McGladdery, who became the last man executed in Northern Ireland in 1961.

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