Skip to Content

Crumlin Road Gaol: History, Tour + Guide

Crumlin Road Gaol: History, Tour + Guide

The historic Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast is arguably one of the city’s most interesting attractions.

As the only remaining Victorian-era prison in Northern Ireland, it operated for 150 years, housing a range of inmates, including murderers, loyalists, and republican prisoners.

Now, you can take a tour of this Grade A listed building to uncover the intriguing history of the former prison.

In the guide below, you’ll find everything from the history of the gaol to what to expect from a visit!

Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Crumlin Road Gaol


Although a visit to Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

The former gaol can be found on Crumlin Road to the north of the city centre. It’s a 15-minute walk from St Anne’s Cathedral, a 20-minute walk from the Belfast Peace Wall and a 30-minute walk from St George’s Market.

2. Opening hours 

The Gaol is open seven days a week. Here are the times:

  • Opening time: 10:00am
  • Last Admission: 4:00pm
  • Site Closes: 6:00pm

3. The tour

The tour takes around 70 minutes and it takes you on a journey through the stories and history of the building. You pass along the tunnel that connects the Gaol to the courthouse before exploring the C-Wing, including the Condemned Man’s Cell and the gaol gravesite. 

4. Gaol Grub

If you fancy a feed after your tour, Cuffs Bar, run by Head Chef Glenn Rochette, is a good spot to rest the legs before heading off on the next part of your Belfast adventure.


The history of Crumlin Road Gaol

tipping in ireland tour guide

Photos via Shutterstock

The Victorian-era Crumlin Road Gaol is steeped in history, much of it dark and all of it fascinating.

Though no longer an operational prison, it has been meticulously preserved, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the past.

The early days

Crumlin Road Gaol was designed by an English architect named Sir Charles Lanyon.

While Lanyon’s most impressive contribution to Northern Ireland was the Antrim Coast Road, he is arguably best known for Belfast’s now-defunct prison.

The building was constructed between 1843 and 1846 as a replacement for the old County Gaol in Carrickfergus.

Built using black basalt rock, it cost just £60,000 to construct. At the time of completion, it boasted a five-sided wall and four prison wings that stood up to four stories high.


The first prisoners

The first prisoners to call Crumlin Road Gaol ‘home’ were made to walk in chains from the old prison in Carrickfergus (around a 4-hour walk).

They arrived in 1846 and were a mix of men, women and children, imprisoned for everything from shoplifting to more serious crimes.

Dark days

For the first few decades, executions were carried out in public view. Although from 1901, an execution chamber was built inside the prison compound and used until the last hanging in 1961.

The condemned would live in a cell and were buried inside the prison beside the hospital.

It’s known that 17 prisoners were executed during the 150 years of operation, with the last being Robert McGladdery in 1961.


Escape attempts

No prison is without some tales of attempted escape, and Crumlin Road Gaol is no different.

It was considered the Alcatraz of Europe, but there were still escape attempts.

The most famous escape occurred in November 1971, when nine Provisional IRA members used rope ladders to make their escape, with all but two successfully getting away.

The Troubles and closure

In November 1991, the Loyalist wing of the prison was targeted by a Provisional IRA bomb, which killed two inmates during the Troubles​.

The prison officially closed in 1996 and remained empty for years.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the prison reopened to visitors for tours and as a conference centre.


The Crumlin Road Gaol tour

Crumlin Road Gaol tour

Photos by Arthur Ward via Tourism Ireland

The gaol operated from 1846 until 1996, housing over 25,000 men, women and children over the years.

The tour allows you to get an insight into the history and stories of the place and people. 

This tour is a self-guided walk including videos, audio and holograms throughout the building.

It takes between 60 and 90 minutes depending on how long you spend reading and listening to the boards and videos throughout the site.


Things to do nearby

the best things to do in Belfast Ireland

One of the beauties of Crumlin Road Gaol is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the jail (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

  1. Discover Belfast’s past: The Belfast Black Cab Tours are well worth doing. You’ll learn about the city’s past and see the murals on the Shankill Road and the Falls Road
  2. The Peace Wall: The wall is used to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods but is now covered in a mix of murals and street art
  3. Key attractions: Titanic Belfast, Cave Hill, Belfast Castle and the Cathedral Quarter are all worth visiting
  4. Food and drink: See my guides to the best restaurants in Belfast and the best pubs in Belfast

Seen enough of the city? See my guide to the finest day trips from Belfast



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.