26 August 2005

Visitors to tour NI Troubles jail


The layout was based on Pentonville Prison in London

Belfast's Crumlin Road jail is to take inmates again next month - but only for the weekend.

The complex, built in the Victorian era, will be open to visitors on 10 and 11 September as part of European Heritage Open Days.

They will be given an hour-long guided tour of the wings including the infamous hanging cell.

The Grade A listed building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and was built between 1843 and 1845.

The free event is being organised by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Department for Social Development.

A spokesman said the jail was "an early example of an innovative approach to prison planning and organisation".

The layout was based on Pentonville Prison in London.

"This, in turn, was influenced by the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, USA, the first to be laid out on the radial cellular system," said the spokesman.

Cultural events

The four wings contain 640 cells which are open to view from the central inspection hall.

The jail and the adjoining Crumlin Road courthouse are connected to one another via an underground tunnel, built to securely transfer some of Northern Ireland's most notorious prisoners across and prevent escape attempts.

The former courts building was the scene of some of the most infamous trials during the Northern Ireland troubles.

It has recently been used for a number of cultural events, including a play.

Heavy security fencing was removed at the courthouse and jail in 2002 as part of a £10m project aimed at developing a tourist attraction to rival San Francisco's island prison, Alcatraz.

People interested in the tour will have to pre-book by phoning the North Belfast Community Action Unit on 028 90726047.

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