Crumlin Road jail opens its gates

 

An eerie gallows room greeted visitors to Crumlin Road jail today as the prison threw open its gates for the first time.

Tourists at the imposing centre in north Belfast enjoyed a guided tour, including the cell where the condemned man waited for his punishment and the famous underground tunnel to the courthouse across the road where the sentence would have been handed out.

Former principle prison officer Syd Wolf (89) in the hanging cell in Crumlin Road Gaol
Former principle prison officer Syd Wolf (89) in the hanging cell in Crumlin Road Gaol

A total of 17 people were killed. Of those, the remains of 15 are still buried somewhere within the grounds of the jail

A foreboding coffin is in a room adjoining the macabre complex. At one stage prisoners survived on gruel and potatoes and had to break stones and unwind ropes to pass long days incarcerated.

Former inmates included UVF leader Gusty Spence, Northern Ireland First Minister the Rev Ian Paisley and IRA bomber Gerry Kelly.

Dr Paisley, imprisoned in 1968 for six weeks after anti-civil rights protests, was known for working in the prison garden.

Mr Kelly, now a junior Sinn Féin minister in the Stormont Assembly, returned to Crumlin Road this week for the first time in almost 30 years. He has a prison record which stretches back nearly 35 years after being jailed for life for his part in the IRA bombing of the Old Bailey in London in 1973.

Sightseers on twice-weekly tours can walk down the pitted concrete of the underground tunnel, which resounded to the footsteps of an estimated 25,000 prisoners brought to and from the courthouse during the Troubles.

A total of £1 million has be been spent on weather-proofing and restoration work which included getting rid of anti-terrorist bomb blast walls, razor wire and bullet proof glass.