Crumlin Road Gaol | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Crumlin Road Gaol

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Lily Johnson

12 Apr 2021

About Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol in North Belfast is the last remaining Victorian prison in Northern Ireland. Now an award-winning tourist attraction, you’ll hear stories of executions, famous inmates, riots, hunger-strikes, escapes and the gruesome secrets permeating 150 years of prison life in Northern Ireland.

Crumlin Road Gaol history

First opened in 1845 and based in part on London’s HM Prison Pentonville, Crumlin Road was designed by English architect Sir Charles Lanyon to replace the small county gaol on Antrim Street in Carrickfergus. As was common at the time, the prison’s design ‘encouraged’ the Separate System whereby prisoners were kept apart and in 1846 the first 106 inmates – men, women and children – literally marched 11 miles in chains from Carrickfergus Prison.

Conditions were brutal and oppressive and impoverished children as young as 6 or 7 were held for petty crimes such as stealing food. In 1858 after being sentenced to 3 months, 13-year old Patrick Magee hanged himself in his cell.

Lanyon’s original designs didn’t include a gallows, as until 1901 executions were held in public before crowds of up to 20,000 outside of the prison. After that, an execution chamber was added with the final hanging taking place in 1961 (not just at Crumlin Road but in Northern Ireland) of murderer Robert McGladdery.

As with many 19th century prisons, escapes from ‘the Crum’ were common despite earning the moniker of ‘Europe’s Alcatraz’, and during the century and a half of the prison’s operation, it saw some of Northern Ireland’s most famous inmates housed here.

Former Taoiseach Éamon de Valera was held in solitary confinement for a month in 1924 for illegally entering Northern Ireland (and again for the same crime five years later); Loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader Ian Paisley was sentenced to 3 months for unlawful assembly in 1966; Republican Sinn Féin politician and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness spent time in Crumlin Road in the 1970s; Loyalist Michael Stone was incarcerated here and Bobby Sands was imprisoned there in the late 1970s.

Crumlin Road Gaol today

The Crum closed on 31st March 1996 and today, guided tours take you through the underground tunnel from the courthouse across the road to the prison, the Hanging Cell, the Historic Holding Cells, Governor’s Office, Graveyard, C-Wing and the Hospital and you’ll hear stories of political intrigue, famous inmates, escapes and executions.

There are also spooky stories of ‘strange’ activity and the Paranormal Tour is not for the faint of heart! Crumlin Road Gaol is a fascinating journey through 150 years of one of Northern Ireland’s most infamous prisons.

Getting to Crumlin Road Gaol

Crumlin Road Gaol is located in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and can be accessed from the A12 by taking the exit for Clifton Street / Mater Hospital, and continuing onto Crumlin Road. The Translink’s Metro Service 57 and 12B both stop directly outside the Gaol Monday-Saturday, while the 12A stops a short walk away at Carlisle Circus on Sundays. The nearest train station is at Yorkgate, a 20-minute walk away.

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