16 September 2005

Bodies to be exhumed from the Crum?


Ten years on: community still trying to exhume body of Jewish man from Crumlin Road Jail

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The Crumlin Road Jail is a site that holds massive potential as a tourist attraction for North Belfast and the city of Belfast as a whole.

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Click thumbnail to view Harrison Library page of Crumlin Road Jail photographs - this one shows the tunnel linking the prison and the Courthouse on the opposite side of the Crumlin Road

Its dark and violent history is of vast interest to the local community and experts the world over and plans to transform it are gathering pace.
This week, the head of an advisory panel was appointed to oversee plans to develop the Grade A listed building, alongside its neighbouring site Girdwood Barracks, racking up a massive 30 acres.
Roy Adams is the chair of that panel and it is expected that the North Belfast Partnership Board will play a key role.
Like Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay a sizable number believe the North Belfast jail, known to many as The Crum, should become a world-class tourist experience.

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Click to view more photos - exercise yard

Since the jail was built in 1845, 17 men suffered the ultimate sentence – death by hanging.
Within the confines of The Crum there is a section of unconsecrated ground where their remains were buried.
The Prison Service has since exhumed two men, including Tom Williams.
The Prison Service was unable to comment on the specifics of exhumation due to the sensitivity of the matter.
But added that: “established methods of identification were used to identify the bodies exhumed to date”.
It is unclear who is buried where in the graveyard, and the initials of those buried in the earth, which were etched into the wall, have now mostly gone.

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Click to view more photos - 'the circle'

According to the President of the Jewish community in Belfast, Ronnie Appleton, they have been trying to exhume the remains of an American man who was hanged in 1931.
Eddie Cullens was the only American to be executed by hanging in the island of Ireland and the only Jew to be killed in this way in the Crum.
The circumstances of the murder, for which he was found guilty, are intensely strange. It involved the murder of Achmet Musa, a Turk, who was found shot in the head in a field, naked except for a woman’s blue and white rubber bathing cap.
It is believed that Cullens and Musa had been part of a travelling circus, which claimed they had the oldest man in the world – Zaro Agha – who was touted as being 156.
The seal on Cullens’ fate and the police investigation was the bathing cap, which had been seen previously in his car by a witness.
The Rabbi who ministered to the condemned Eddie Cullens was quoted as saying: “He went to the scaffold with the deep conviction that his hands were clean and clear of the blood of this man.”
Ronnie Appleton said they had been trying for nearly ten years to officially bury Eddie Cullens.
“We have been in correspondence with the NIO for years now, but the trouble is they’re not very sure where he’s buried. There were marks made in the walls but they were plastered over, so they can’t identify exactly where he is,” he said.
“The Secretary of State has given permission for the body to be exhumed but the hold-up is that they haven’t located him.”
The Glenravel Local History Project has carried out extensive research on the jail over the past five years and was the first organisation to conduct a tour of the jail and shed light on its gruesome history.
The history group, based in the Ashton Centre, approached the Prison Service in 2000 with a proposal to move the remaining bodies to Clifton Cemetery.
“The Prison Service wrote back and said they would take it under consideration,” Glenravel historian Joe Baker said.
“But we proposed this when we thought the jail was going to be demolished. We would be in favour now of holding a joint religious ceremony to turn the graveyard into consecrated ground.”
According to the Department of Social Development, which has responsibility for the jail, part of the death sentence required that the body should be buried in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the jail.
“The Royal Prerogative of Mary was exercised to remit that part of the sentence required burial in prison grounds,” DSD said.
“We will consult with the local community and other interests about the bodies as part of our work in taking forward a development plan for the jail site.”
The last man to be hanged in Crumlin Road jail was Robert McGladdery on December 20, 1961 by executioner Harry Allen.
Allen was the last hangman to carry out this duty in the North of Ireland. He had been a one-time assistant to Thomas Pierrepoint who executed 19-year-old Thomas Williams.
There were other gruesome deaths, which took place in the jail including suicides. The most tragic was that of a 12-year-old boy who was accused and found guilty of stealing clothes and food.
The child claimed he hadn’t eaten in days, but he was nevertheless sentenced to three months’ time and told the hangman would flog him.
On his arrival and placement in a cell, the child was so petrified of his punishment that he took his own life.

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

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