Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Crumlin courthouse saw more drama than even the Bard dreamed of

By Jim McDowell

William Shakespeare said that all the world's a stage. If he had lived long enough, he would have adored the Crumlin Road courthouse.

Because, on a daily basis, more drama unfolded in this elegant, imposing, but ultimately menacing Lanyon landmark than pulsed through any of his plays.

Bid to save Belfast's crumbling Crumlin courthouse 

There was more Machiavellian plotting under these vaulted portals than even in the black masterpiece of Macbeth.

The Bard's quill pen would certainly have quivered at some of the trials staged here.

From the riveting cases involving civilians: like the headline grabbing and emotion-charged trial of Robert McGladdery, eventually convicted of the murder of Pearl Gamble... while Judge Curran sat on the bench, having endured the tragedy and trauma of his own daughter being murdered.

To the huge terrorist-related show trials, the so-called 'Supergrass' cases.

They ranged from 'starring', if that is the right word, the likes of UVF terrorist-turned-tout 'Budgie' Allen, who earned his exotic nickname because 'he sang like one', to the late Raymond Gilmore, found lying dead still under death threat from the IRA and in exile in his London flat, just a few days ago.

This was the courthouse, now crumbling, where the cream of Ulster's QCs, the great battling barristers, plied their articulate trade, both in prosecuting criminals, and defending the innocent.

The names don't only roll off the tongue. They are a roll of honour in their own right: Dessie Boal, Robert 'Big Bob' McCartney, the late, great John Creaney, and the still practising Michael Lavery, now the High Priest of the High Court round the corner from the Albert Clock.

It was in reporting the legal arguments and representations of those skilled advocates that many's a cub reporter cut their teeth, documenting criminal cases at the Crumlin Road courthouse.

You shook in your shoes when your news editor 'marked' you to cover a case there: but your hand had to be steady to take down shorthand at 120 words a minute, because if you got one word wrong, you, yourself, or, even worse, your Editor, could be in the dock next morning, facing a charge of contempt of court.

Little wonder, then, that many of the best court reporters in the world sharpened their pencils and pulled out their notebooks on the Press benches of the myriad court rooms in this palisaded palace of justice.

Forgive me for a quick trip down an old hack's memory lane, but in that incomparable Press pack of court reporters where the likes of Stanley Aiken from the 'BT' itself, Ivan 'The Major' McMichael, Leslie 'Bomber' Mills, Trevor Hanna, of course, the lovely Maureen Martin, and, until the court house closed, Mickey 'Make Way For The Press' Donnelly, who is still reporting Crown Court cases.

Those were the days of either phoning your (instant) reports into copy takers on the other end of a phone in the newsrooms, or tapping it out on a typewriter in the Crumlin Road Press room for publication in the paper the next morning.

This wasn't just reporting. This was journalistic romance.

Tragedies and triumphs, Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet, all rolled into one.

As for the Bard, he would have revelled in it.

As for the future, I was once standing on the balcony of the Stormont Hotel with an Ulster business tycoon.

We were both peering at the Big White House on the Hill where our politicians still meet and yack.

I asked the millionaire what he would do with Stormont if he could ever buy it.

Without blinking, he replied: "I'd turn it into a casino."

Now, it would be ditto with me if I could get my hands on the Crumlin Road courthouse.

After all, consider how many lives were gambled on, or gambled away, in there, in terms of life, or death, for those pronounced either innocent, or found guilty.

And as the site was sold for just a quid not so long ago, what a fitting punt it would be - even for a few million pounds more - to turn the artifice known colloquially as 'The Old Lady of the Crumlin Road' into an emporium where Lady Luck could have the last throw of the dice.

And turn a crumbling wreck into a roulette wheel of fortune.

Belfast Telegraph


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