It is not pretty common to have in a city as a top attraction a jail. The one in Belfast is the second one I’ve visited, the first one being in Romania – a former jail transformed in a communism museum, a place where many intellectual people were tortured because of their beliefs.
The jail in Belfast, far away from being a museum to remember the cruelty of past times, is open to the public since 2012 and it is used as a conference center too. In the large court some pubs are arranged and inside, at the ground floor, even a restaurant is open for customers. And don’t get fooled by the “gaol” word, which means in fact jail and it is pronounced as “jail”. For sure you will be surprised to hear that until 16 weddings were celebrated and even 1 funeral!
Getting in front of the jail first it will jump into your eyes the immense abandoned building across the street: Crumlin Road Courthouse. The place was sold for only 1 pound, but the owner didn’t invested any penny until now. In 2009, some teenagers, presumably, set on fire the building and now many of the rooms are sunken in soot. Some of the windows are as well broken and on roof the vegetation is already grown.
The entrance fee is 9£ and it covers a 1h15min tour. If you are not used with the Irish accent (as I was) it will be hard to understand everything the guide will say. Our guide was one of the best guides I ever had until now in all the places we’ve visited. He was speaking almost non-stop, saying a lot of stories and facts, answering to each question and making the time for us to take pictures. Many stories of the jail are told in such a long time and having him as guide the stories flowed in a unique funny way. But what made the experience even more exciting was the fact that we were only 8 in the group and 2 of the visitors were ex-convicts. One of them spent 15 years in this prison and he used to ask more detailed question, especially about prisoners from his time. They were brothers by blood and maybe brothers in crimes, but both of them were somehow happy to visit the jail, to remember a important period of their life. They even told us stories about how the food looked like, how you had to cook it by yourself or how depending on your political sympathies you were placed on different wings of the jail. One of the brothers said he had a lot of money, most probably from the crimes he was convicted for (I couldn’t understand exactly), but the other one seemed a little bit sad to be there. Would you be able to visit the jail you’ve been imprisoned for 15 years?
What I do remember from the numerous stories is the fact the when the jail was opened in 1845 also children used to be incarcerated – even for playing football on the streets of the city! Another thing is that at that time the death sentence was quite common, especially in murder cases. But in some of the cases it happened for people to be hanged only for trespassing.
In the end a visit to the jail is not that bad, isn’t it?