This weekend on a brief trip to Belfast my friend suggested we do a tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol. I generally try to steer clear of any history related to the recent past but I had heard such positive things about the way in which the jail had been interpreted that I agreed to go. I have to say I was delighted I did and was so impressed with the way in which the history is presented to the visitor that I intend to return to partake of one of the paranormal tours.
Our trip included a guided tour of the prison and site. Our guide Maria was fantastic. As a former tour guide I tend to be quite picky about guides and the manner in which they present and deliver the history of the site but Maria was brilliant. She was so captivating and was extremely respectful of the more difficult histories of the site.
The Crumlin Road Gaol has a very vibrant and very recent history. The prison opened its doors in 1845 and closed its door in 1996. The prison has suffered a very tumultuous and at times violent history. You hear about the children that were housed in the building and the manner in which they were treated. The story of one young boy who was sentenced to a flogging and feared it so much that he took his own life, really hit home how much times have changed with youths now being sent to correctional and juvenile detention centers.
The visit to the condemned mans cell is the most harrowing part of the tour. The visitors are brought inside the cell and an outline of how the man would have spent his last days are given. Our guide was so respectful of how she presented this part of the tour and I was left with chills when she reveals where the prisoner is taken to be executed. 17 prisoners from the jail were executed and the majority would have spent their last days in that cell.
The prison was built to house prisoners, male, female and children. Initially men and women were segregated being held in separate cells on arrival at the prison. When women were moved to other jails the separation later became between republicans and loyalists. The prison has at times been home to some of the most prominent political figures in Northern Ireland. Rev Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness amongst others have spent a time in ‘The Crum’ as it is known with locals. You get a real sense of the importance of the story that the building tells. It is vital that we remember our history regardless of how painful and harrowing it might be.
I think what they have done at the Crumlin Road Gaol is fantastic. They have created a heritage site that not only tells the story of the past and entertains the visitors but it also informs. I left the tour having discovered much more about the story of Belfast than I had previously known. The prisoners that had escaped, the men who had been executed, the underground tunnel that is now reinforced to with stand the very prevalent threat of car bombs from the street above. These are all aspects of the past that deserve to be remembered and shared. I would recommend this tour to everyone. I left the building captivated by its history and have since found myself searching online for more information. I am already eagerly awaiting my return visit to learn about the sites paranormal activities.