HMP Belfast, also known as Crumlin Road Gaol, is a former prison situated on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is the only Victorian era prison remaining in Northern Ireland since 1996. It is affectionately known as the Crum.The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has given it a grade A listed building status because of its architectural and historical significance. The Crumlin Road Courthouse, which is currently derelict, stands opposite the Gaol. A tunnel under the main road connects the two buildings and was used to transport the prisoners to the courthouse.
Designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the prison was built between 1843 and 1845 and cost £60,000. Built as a replacement for the County Gaol on Antrim Street in Carrickfergus, and known as the County Gaol for Antrim, it was constructed of black balsalt rock on ten acres at the bottom of the Crumlin Road. Partly based on HM Prison Pentonville, it was one of the most advanced prisons of its day. Built within a five-sided wall, the four wings are up to four storeys in height and fan off from the central area which was known as The Circle. The prison was originally built to hold between 500 and 550 prisoners in cells that measured 12 x 7 feet. It was the first prison in Ireland to be built according to "The Separate System", intended to separate prisoners from each other with no communication between them. Later, especially in the early 1970s, as many as three prisoners were placed in each cell.
The first 106 inmates, who were forced to walk from Carrickfergus Prison in chains, arrived in 1846. These inmates, who were men, women and children, completed the changeover of the two prisons. Children from impoverished working-class families were often imprisoned at the gaol in the early years for offences such as stealing food or clothing. Thirteen-year-old Patrick Magee, who had been sentenced to three months in prison hanged himself in his cell in 1858. Women inmates were kept in the prison block house until the early 1900s. Ulster suffragettes, among them Dorothy Evans and Madge Muir, were imprisoned in the gaol during 1914.
When originally designed by Lanyon, the prison did not contain a gallows and the executions were carried out in public view until 1901, when an execution chamber was constructed within the prison walls and used until the last of the hangings in 1961. Seventeen prisoners were executed in the prison, the last being Robert McGladdery who was hanged in 1961 for the murder of Pearl Gamble. The condemned would live in a large cell (large enough for two guards to live in as well). The bodies of the executed were buried inside the prison in unconsecrated ground and the graves were marked only with their initials and year of execution on the prison wall. The execution of Tom Williams, a member of the IRA, took place on 2 September 1942. Williams, nineteen years old, was hanged for the murder of an RUC officer. The hangman in charge was Thomas Pierrepoint, the gaol's most regular hangman, who carried out six executions in the gaol between 1928 and 1942. Williams was one of the two prisoners of the seventeen executed whose remains were reinterred and buried elsewhere.
Despite being known as Europe's Alcatraz there were a number of successful escape attempts at the Gaol. The first recorded escape was in 1866. During its 150-year history the gaol had many prisoners pass through its doors. Some of the more well known prisoners included Eamon De Valera, Martin McGuinness, Michael Stone and Bobby Sands. On 24 November 1991, during the last stages of the Troubles, the Loyalist wing of the prison became the target of a Provisional IRA bomb that killed a UVF and a UDA volunteer. A restoration project was announced in August 2010. In November 2012, the prison re-opened its doors as a tourist attraction and conference centre.
The Gaol Tour comprises of a qualified guide exploring the prison with your allocated group. Your guide will inform you about the Gaol’s history including when women and children were imprisoned, the executions that were carried out, it’s more recent history and learn about why the decision was taken to close the prison. The Tour will cover all aspects of the Gaol from the Tunnel linking the courthouse on the other side of the Crumlin Road to the Hanging Cell, the Historic Holding Cells, Governors Office, Centre Circle, C-Wing, Hospital and Graveyard.Admission tickets can be purchased on the day but we advise pre-booking to avoid disappointment. They recommend that you arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes prior to the tour time, to enable tickets to be checked or to be purchased. Please note anyone who purchases a student or concession ticket will be required to produce the appropriate identification to gain admission! Failure to do so will invalided your ticket without a refund. Suitable warm clothing and flat shoes must be worn.
The facilities are designed to be accessible to guests with disabilities including: - Disabled car park - Disabled toilets - Provision of seating at various points throughout the Gaol - Wheelchairs are available for visitors to borrow if booked in advance (£10 Deposit). Large parts of the tour can be accessed by wheelchairs or mobility scooters users but some areas cannot. These areas include the Tunnel and the Drop Room below the Hanging Cell. Their Guides will endeavour to accommodate any wheelchair user to ensure they get the best out of the Tour. Only assistance dogs are welcomed.
Location : Crumlin Road Gaol, 53-55 Crumlin Rd, Belfast BT14 6ST
Transport: Belfast Yorkgate (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : Translink Metroservice 57, 93 and 12B stop near by Monday to Saturday (take the 12A on Sunday).
Opening Times : Daily, First Tour 10:00, Last Tour 16:30.
Tickets : Adults £9.00; Concessions £8.00; Children (5 - 15) £6.50.
Tel: 028 9074 1500