Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital. It is best known for where the RMS Titanic was made. There are also a lot of historical and scenic places to visit here for free like the Ulster Museum, political murals, art galleries, the Linen Hall Library, the Belfast Castle Estate, St. George’s Market, Botanic gardens, and many more.
An aerial shot of Belfast in Northern Ireland. (Link: https://www.joe.ie/news/pics-thousands-march-belfast-equal-marriage-rights-northern-ireland-593760)
However, another place that they visit in Belfast is dubbed as Europe’s Alcatraz and one of the most haunted sites in the whole of Ireland. It is the Crumlin Road Gaol, a Victorian-era prison, where a lot of deaths have taken place.
Crumlin Road Gaol as seen from the outside. (Link: https://www.getyourguide.com/belfast-l442/belfast-crumlin-road-gaol-historic-guided-tour-t225228/)
History Of Crumlin Road Gaol
Crumlin Road Gaol or HMP Belfast is a former prison. It is the only Victorian-era prison that stands to this day in Northern Ireland. Locals call it “The Crum.” The prison was built sometime in 1843 to 1845. It cost around £60,000 during that time. The prison as designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and its architectural significance made it a grade A listed building status by Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Some of the prison cells inside Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: https://www.viator.com/en-IN/tours/Belfast/Guided-Tour-of-Crumlin-Road-Gaol-in-Belfast/d738-8980P1)
During the time that it was built, it was considered as one of the most advanced prisons. It had four wings and there were four storeys. Initially, the prison was to house only 500 to 550 prisoners because they wanted to implement “The Separate System” wherein the prisoners cannot communicate with each other due to the distance of the cells. However, in the 1970s, around three prisoners were placed in each cell.
Inside one of the cells at the Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: https://lanyonhotel.co.uk/blog/exploring-crumlin-road-gaol/crumlin-road-gaol3/)
The first inmates were said to be 106 – they were composed of men, women, and even children. Children were usually imprisoned because of stealing food or clothing. One 13-year-old inmate, some say he was only 10, named Patrick Magee was sentenced to three months behind bars. However, he hanged himself in his cell shortly thereafter. He stole bread and his parents were already dead. The judge not only sentenced him to three months of hard labor because the judge instructed that he was to be taken to the prison to be whipped. He feared for what will happen so he immediately hanged himself minutes after he was brought to his cell. On the same year Magee killed himself, a law was passed forbidding children under the age of 14 to be placed in an adult prison system.
Renovations to build more cells were made in 1890 at the Crumlin Road Gaol. A prison hospital and a laundry block were later added. A tailor shop and a boot and shoe shop were also later added so that the prisoners can make uniforms and footwear for the warders and the inmates.
Some inmates during the latter years at the Crumlin Road Gaol has been in operation. (Link: https://www.irishnews.com/news/2015/11/07/news/down-gael-is-put-behind-bars-at-crumlin-road-gaol-318012/)
The prison was closed in 1996. Restorations were made in 2010 and it was opened as a tourist attraction in 2012. Aside from giving people tours, it also serves as a conference center and a venue for concerts.
The Executions At The Crumlin Road Gaol
In total, it is estimated that around 25, 000 people were imprisoned at the Crumlin Road Gaol during the 150 years it was in operation. Of the imprisoned inmates, 17 men were executed by hanging. The bodies of these buried inmates were buried within the prison walls. The men’s initials were scratched into the wall and the year they were executed. These are the only markings that serve was identification for those who died by execution.
Initially, the first executions took place on open crossbeams. But in 1901, an execution chamber was added to the prison and it was used for the successive hangings until 1961.
Some of the ropes still hanging at the Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: https://mattbolch.com/2017/04/30/no-place-to-poop-crumlin-road-gaol/)
Fifteen of those executed were due to criminal murder, one for a semi-political conviction, and another for a political action.
One of the most controversial executions is that of Tom Williams. He was 19 years old and was a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was hanged because he executed a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer.
Tom Williams, one of those executed in Crumlin Road Gaol, in an undated photo. (Link: https://www.facebook.com/AlexMaskeySF/photos/today-marks-the-76th-anniversary-of-the-death-of-18-year-old-ira-volunteer-tom-w/1356480637816621/)
The last execution was that of Robert McGladdery in 1961. He was hanged for the murder of one Pearl Gamble. A rope still hangs in one of the wings at the Crumlin Road Gaol and it is claimed that that same rope was the rope used to hang McGladdery.
Robert McGladdery, the last person hanged at the Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: https://alchetron.com/Robert-McGladdery)
Attempted Escapes At The Crumlin Road Gaol
Just like other prisons, the Crumlin Road Gaol has its fair share of escapes. The prison system has a heavy security and was overseen by the British Army at some point. However, there have been escapes made by the IRA prisoners.
The most notable escape was on January 15, 1943. The IRA’s Chief of Staff and three other republican prisoners were able to escape from the Crumlin Road Gaol. It is unclear how but they were never recaptured even if a reward of £3,000 was promised to whoever can bring them back to the Crumlin Road Gaol.
The Ghosts At Crumlin Road Gaol
The Crumlin Road Gaol is just across the Crumlin Road Courthouse. Because of this, locals believe that the people who received their sentencing are the ones haunting the prison.
Below the prison and the courthouse is a tunnel that was used to transport the prisoners to the prison system after they were sentenced. This is where most of the supposed paranormal activities take place. The most frequent ghost seen here is said to be that of a little girl. It is unclear who this girl is but a mother who toured the Crumlin Road Gaol claims to have captured photographic evidence of the existence of such ghost.
The tunnel below Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: https://www.pinterest.ph/pin/499758889899161243/?lp=true)
The peak season when tourists flock to Crumlin Road Gaol is during Halloween. One woman named Carly Foster visited the prison during Halloween 2016. She took photos and when she was scrolling through the snaps, she saw a figure that she believed belong to the little girl. The white shadowy figure was present in one snap but in the photo that was taken seconds later, the hallways and the doorways were empty. Foster shared in the interview, “It was the wing I felt the most weird and unsettled in and it was freezing cold.”
The photo that allegedly shows the ghost of the little girl at the Crumlin Road Gaol. (Link: http://anomalyinfo.com/Stories/2016-october-31-crumlin-road-gaol-ghost-girl)
She also shared that during their tour, a heavy steel door closed on its own. They also heard ringing noises and the group’s EVP and EMF recorders picked up some activity in certain spots in the prison. Foster also shared that when the tour guides talk about the little girl named Isabelle “the recorder went crazy.”
Another ghost seen at the Crumlin Road Gaol belongs to a prison warden. He allegedly walks down the steps of the courthouse and into the tunnel before he disappears into thin air behind the solid steel door that separates the courthouse and the prison.
When the prison was still operational, other prison wardens claimed that they saw a grey figure in the tunnel. Ghost hunters also claim that they have heard a man’s groan, sigh, cough, and whistle while they explored the tunnel.