The Significance of Crumlin Road Court & Jail | The Crum

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The Significance of Crumlin Road Court & Jail

Crumlin Road has a lot of significance in Belfast.

The road which is located in north-west Belfast, around four miles from the city centre, is home to some of the country’s most prominent listed buildings.

Crumlin Road became synonymous with the historic Troubles of Northern Ireland in late 1960’s to the late 1990’s.

Crumlin Road Gaol

The cities notorious HM Prison Crumlin Road, or as its most commonly known as the Crum, is located on the lower section of the road.

The Crum was the main prison in Belfast during the years of 1846 to 1986, when the conflict within the country was rife. This ensured that the prison was the main lockup for those involved in the conflicts from both sides, making it one of the most dangerous and volatile prisons within the wider UK.

The prison was built between 1843 and 1845 at a cost of just £60,000. Constructed during the height of the famine, the prison was built around the same scheme as HMP Pentonville in London.


Only in its later days was Crumlin Road Jail a men’s only prison, before this and up until the early part of the 20th century, the Crum held men, women and even child prisoners. These children were sentenced from one week to up to three months and could include whipping for crimes such as theft.

The change in law came when one inmate, thirteen-year-old Patrick Magee, hung himself in his cell after being sent down for three months in 1858. Later that year, a bill was passed which forbid children under the age of 14 being sent to an adult prison.

The prison was built to accommodate 500-550 prisoners in single-cell accommodation, however during the later years as the prison became busier, particularly during the 1970’s when the Troubles were at their worst, each cell would accommodate three prisoners. Extensions were made but overcrowding within Crumlin Road Jail remained a problem.


As the Troubles continued, the prison became populated with a range of prisoners including murderers, suffragettes, petty thieves, and republican and loyalist prisoners.

Having the republicans and loyalists within the same facility often caused conflict which could be spared by the smallest of things. The tension was high and the guests and fellow prisoners could feel it.

The prison held many notorious figures from the Troubles including; Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Michael Stone and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands as well as the Shankill Butchers. In 1991, the political tension within the prison became even more prominent, it was during the last stages of the Troubles and the Loyalist wing of the prison became the target of a Provisional IRA bomb that killed a UVF and a UDA volunteer.

In the prisons lifetime, 17 inmates were executed by hanging, many other died in mitigating circumstances and there were numerous escape attempted including that of eight Republican prisoners who shot their way out of the jail and left the way they came in, through the front gate.

The notorious prison closed in 1996 and lay derelict for a number of years before being awarded Grade A listed status and transformed into a museum and tourist destination.

Crumlin Road Courthouse

The Crumlin Road Courthouse was designed by the same man who built the jail.

After the completion of the prison, Charles Lanyon set out to work on designing the courthouse which would sit opposite the jail. Built between 1845 and 1850, the courthouse offered a direct link between the court itself and the Crumlin Road Jail via an underground tunnel.

This tunnel was used to transport prisoners to and from and apparently where the phrase ‘send him down’ originated from.


Many thousands of trials were held here, from petty thefts to murders and those related to the political unrest of the time. The courthouse became an iconic symbol of the conflict along with the prison where a number of loyalist and republicans were sentenced. Some of the most notorious cases trailed at Crumlin Road Courthouse included Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, Paddy Devlin and David Ervine.

In 1983, a record-breaking twenty-two IRA suspects were jailed for a total of 4,000 years following a ‘supergrass’ trial which was the biggest sentence ever given at that time.

The court also played host to the trail of the Shankill Butchers, an Ulster loyalist gang who were responsible for a number of gruesome murders.

The ferocious killings reflected more of a serial killer than a political agenda with the gang notorious for kidnapping, brutally torturing and then cutting the throats of their victims, the majority of which were Catholic civilians, targeted at random as they walked home. Although their targeted victims, the gang sometimes attacked Protestants by mistake and in one chilling spate of killings, the Shankill Butchers murdered six Ulster Protestants over personal disputes.

The gang were caught in 1979 and together received the longest combined prison sentence in the legal history of the United Kingdom. The leader of the Shankill Butchers and his two chief lieutenants miraculously escaped prosecution, Murphy, the leader was killed by the Provisional IRA in 1982.

These trials continued until the courthouse closed in 1998, two years after the Crumlin Road Prison closed its door. Since then it has lain derelict, with many attempts of purchase and development yet none of them coming to fruition.

The development which is proposed by the Liverpool-based developer, Signature Living aims to transform this grand yet damaged building into a hotel worthy of its history. The Crum will be a heritage development with a difference, celebrating the rich history which looking to the future.

The group have earmarked £25 million to this project which will see it saved, restored and brought back to life as a luxury hotel with state of the art facilities and fantastic amenities such as restaurant & bar, spa and heritage centre.

This is a completely transformative development and one no other developer has ever attempted. Keep an eye on our latest news for any updates on progression when work begins.

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