When we went to Ireland in September I left the planning of everything up to my brother. He always does such a good job of planning a fab week when I go to the Isle of Man so I trust him to come up with good things to do.
He mentioned us visiting an old prison and I loved the idea. Early in the week our plan went a little wrong...well not wrong as such but we ended up driving further than we thought we could so it became our plan to visit towards the end of the week instead.
I was oddly really excited about visiting the prison. I guess it added to the other slightly morbid plans of the week which involved the Titanic museum, a pub run by the family of Joey Dunlop who died whilst racing and a memorial garden.
I ended up saying to my brother that I didn't mind what we did, as long as we managed to visit the prison.
That day came and as we pulled up in the car park I was amazed by how beautiful the prison was from the outside. It didn't look run down so you could see that although it isn't open as a prison anymore, it is still looked after. The prison dates back to 1845 and closed it's doors as a working prison in 1996.
It is now used as a visitor attraction and conference centre. The prison offers a guided tour where you can hear about the history of the site, learn about the political segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners, when women and children were held at the prison, and why the prison was closed.
One of the most interesting places we visited was the underground tunnel that used to connect the Crumlin Road Gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse. It was interesting to hear about the process of getting the prisoners through the tunnel and avoiding the Republicans and Loyalists from meeting...which happened quite often.
We also visited the condemned mans cell which made me feel so confused. I did find myself quite emotional but I was able to hold it in, until we were then shown the execution cell where the majority of the 17 men were hanged.
1863 – The execution of Daniel Ward, 8th April.
1876 – The execution of John Daly, April 27th.
1889 – The execution of Arthur McKeown, 14th January.
1901 – The execution of William Woods, 1st November. A new stone execution chamber was used for the first time in C Wing.
1909 – The execution of Richard Justin, 19th August.
1922 – The execution of Simon McGeown, 17th August.
1922 – The execution of Michael J Pratley, 8th May.
1928 – The execution of William Smiley, 8th August.
1930 – The execution of Samuel Cushnahan, 8th April.
1931 – The execution of Thomas Dornan, 31st July.
1932 – The execution of Eddie Cullins, 3rd March.
1933 – The execution of Harold Courtney, 7th April.
1942 – The execution of Thomas Joseph Williams, 2nd September.
1961 – The execution of Samuel McLaughlin, 25th July.
1961 – Last execution: Robert McGladdery, 20th December. He was found guilty of the murder of Pearl Gamble near Newry in Co Down.
1854 – First execution. Robert Henry O’Neill, soldier, 21st June. His body and 14 others, are still interred in unmarked graves within the grounds of the Gaol.
It was a strange feeling. As we saw the rope I felt my eyes fill with tears and goosebumps covered my body. As everyone else walked downstairs, to where they would place the body in a coffin, I stayed by the rope and took a few moments to let those feelings take over.
Although maybe these men deserved to be executed there is always that possibility that they were actually guilty and falsly accused. Plus, I believe in spirits remaining in certain places and so on and I guess this was the kind of place that I can imagine being full of spirits.
I went downstairs and joined the others, thinking I wouldn't cry again, until the tour guide told us about children getting whipped. Having to face away and not see who it was who was whipping them.
A 10 year old boy committed suicide because he couldn't face being whipped. At that point heavy tears filled my eyes and fell down my face.
I pictured my children and although they wouldn't (hopefully!!) ever do anything that would have caused them to be whipped or be in prison at all it's hard to hear anything about children and to not picture your own.
I think the guide saw that I was upset and he swiftly took all 8 of us up the stairs and outside.
After a short walk around the tour came to an end.
It was such a fantastic experience and somewhere I would recommend everyone to visit. I would definitely visit again.
If not just to listen to the Northern Irish accent from our amazing tour guide.