Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast
An old prison in West Belfast
, Northern Ireland
, which played a crucial role during the Troubles. It was originally built in the mid 19th century to the then new "separation" design, i.e. prisoners were held in single cells without being able to communicate with each other (see also Kilmainham Gaol
; and cf. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
). Its architectural design features a typical shape of wings of cell blocks fanning off a central "core" known here as "The Circle". The cell blocks are up to four storeys high, and were intended originally to hold up to 500-600 prisoners in total.
During the Troubles between 1968 up to the prison's closure in 1996, it served mainly as a remand prison for suspected terrorists/paramilitaries from both the Republican and the Loyalist sides, who were, naturally, kept segregated. During the 1970s the prison was often overcrowded with up to three prisoners per cell. Informally the prison is known as "The Crum".
The list of prisoners who have gone through this prison includes many a prominent name, such as Eamon de Valera, the early 20th century rebellion activist and later president of the Republic of Ireland
(see Kilmainham Gaol
), Ian Paisley, the formerly uncompromising Unionist firebrand and later briefly First Minister (in 2007-2008), as well as Michael Stone, the Loyalist terrorist and perpetrator of the Milltown Massacre (see Belfast
), and many more.
Up until 1961, executions were also carried out at Crumlin Road Gaol, 17 in total. An underground passage connected the prison directly with the courthouse across the road.
After the prison's closure in 1996 it stood derelict for years until it was decided to turn it into a visitor attraction in 2010. Now you can see the cell blocks, the condemned men's cell and execution chamber and even the underground passage to the courthouse, which itself, however, is still derelict.
Visits are by guided tour only
, which last ca. 75 minutes and are conducted daily
year round from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.; admission
fee is £7.50 (concession £5.50; groups of at least eight participants £5 per person). In theory you can just turn up, but tours fill up quickly so it is advisable to book a ticket in advance
(you can do so online at crumlinroadgaol.com/public-tour.html). Apart from their regular historical tours they also offer special "paranormal tours" – based on the claim that the building is allegedly one of the most haunted in the country … if you can believe in such things (see paranormal tourism
When I was in Belfast
in December 2012, the prison had only just opened its doors to the public (on 19 November), and I only found out about it on my Black Taxi Tour
(well, the car was actually maroon). When I enquired at reception about ticket availability I was told that they were already booked out for more than a week ahead. So I had no chance of going to see the inside of the prison myself on that occasion. When I go back to Belfast it will be at the top of my priority list! And I'm not alone in this – when I last looked it was ranked second on TripAdvisor for things to do in Belfast, just after one of the Titanic attractions, so it clearly is popular!
on the road of the same name at Nos. 53-55, in West Belfast
just a couple of hundred yards north of the Shankill Road
, and about a mile and a half (2.5 km) from the city centre.
By the way, another jail in Northern Ireland, namely HM Prison Maze
(formerly the Long Kesh Detention Centre), may become accessible to the public in some form too. This possibly even more infamous facility than "the Crum" was closed in the year 2000 and most cell blocks have since been demolished. But the former prison hospital and one H-block are still there and have been designated listed historical monuments. There has been talk of turning them into a kind of peace and reconciliation centre of some form or other. But as far as I could tell that hasn't happened yet. Unionist parties object to the plan for fear of the site becoming some kind of shrine to the IRA and a thus pilgrimage site for diehard Republican activists and paramilitary sympathizers. Given the prison's iconic role in their struggle, especially for the remembrance of the hunger strikers of 1981 (see under Northern Ireland
and also Derry/Londonderry
), such fears are probably not without some justification. From a dark tourist perspective, however, it would be an exciting additional attraction with great potential. We'll see …
The former Maze prison is located just west of the small town of Lisburn (hence it's sometimes also called Lisburn prison) ca. 9 miles (14 km) south-west of Belfast