*Warning: This blog post gives details of a prison with brief information regarding execution.
Recently, I’ve developed an interest in crime. Not in a going to become a serial killer way but after watching a lot of Making Of A Murderer and Dexter, it’s something that has intrigued me a little. The human brain fascinates me. The rest of our organs generally function the same but every brain is different. What makes us tick? What makes my opinions different from yours? Why do we do the things we do?
Crime is something that has been drilled into us from an early age as a big no-no. If we weren’t taught it, would we still know it’s wrong? Do we naturally know within ourselves that it is wrong or is it just something we have been fed? Whichever way, the majority of the human population avoid a life of crime. Those who do indulge however, does their mind function differently to ours? Do their receptors transmit differently? Or have they simply found a way past their conscience? These are all the weird and wonderful questions that spiral around my head when I have a lot of time to think.
Last year, I visited a former prison in Berlin. The experience intrigued me as I will never (hopefully) personally experience life inside a prison. Getting to hear other peoples experiences and learning about a once functioning jail was fascinating. Since coming home to the UK, I have spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland. The country is famous for it’s troubled past and when I heard about Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, it went to the top of my to do list. It’s took us a while to visit but we finally took the tour.
Crumlin Road Gaol closed it’s doors in 1996 after functioning as a prison since the Victorian era. Seventeen men have been executed within its walls during its 150 year history and the gaol has a dark and disturbing past. Prisoners have included men, women and children being held for all degrees of crime. Inmates were also politically segregated leading to conflict, explosions and escape.
After a cup of tea in the gaol cafe, our tour group met in the museum area of the grounds. While we waited, we viewed displays of old prison records and objects including handcuffs and weapons. Our tour guide, Brendan, took us along to the reception of the gaol where he introduced himself. The reception was where prisoners would be taken for processing and to change into their prison uniforms leaving their civilian outfits behind. Brendan gave us insight into the process and also some inmates stories and it was at this point we discovered a member of our tour group was an ex-prisoner of this very gaol. Unfortunately, he wasn’t open about this, we only discovered through earwigging so we didn’t get to hear his story.
We were taken into the tunnel which connected the gaol to the courthouse underneath the main round. The tunnel was damp and eery so it was hardly surprising that it is said to be haunted.
The gaol itself was then opened up to us and we got the chance to explore C wing. It’s a weird feeling suddenly entering a set up you’ve only seen in movies. We were given glimpses into cells, kitchens and other rooms used by the prison before entering the execution room.
The cell we entered at the end of the corridor was really no different to the others but you were only placed in there when you were sentenced to death. This was the room where you would have your last meal and ultimately be restrained before another door opened in your cell and you were greeted with the sight of a hanging noose and a trap door. Seventeen men were executed in the room in which we stood, their names and dates of death projected onto the wall behind the noose. Brendan informed us in chilling detail of the procedure and just standing there was enough to send a shiver down your spine.
Brendan’s tour was incredibly informative and we were given a great insight into the stories that unfolded inside the gaol walls. Prison is an experience the majority of us will thankfully not have to experience so it is incredibly interesting to see a glimpse of that world.
The rest of the day carried a more light hearted note with a trip to Nandos, a browse around the shops and an introduction to a beautiful cocktail bar. Rita’s is a bar which came up on a sponsored Instagram post once upon a time and the cocktails looked so delicious I just knew I had to try. The bar itself is beautiful and quirky with an Asian theme. Lamps and sofas are dotted around the venue giving it a cosy atmosphere. A wide selection of cocktails including ‘hard tea’ with lovely staff, Rita’s is an absolute hidden gem. I went for a Minted Velvet hard tea which had a gin twist on a mojito and a Smooth & Cordess which was a beautiful concoction of rose and green tea whilst Ash opted for The Pearl Necklace. I had to explain what it meant. If you fancy a visit to a delightful little cocktail bar whilst in Belfast, I could not recommend Rita’s enough.
Belfast has so many layers with a lot of depth, a lot of culture and a lot to enjoy. Crumlin Road Gaol gives you a fantastic glimpse into the history of Belfast’s most infamous prison and is definitely worth a tour if you have an interest. I found it fascinating and I’m sure it won’t be the last prison I visit.
Crumlin Road Gaol runs tours 7 days a week and is priced at £7.50pp if you book online.
All opinions are my own and just that: opinions. This blog post is not sponsored or endorsed in any way.