The Crumlin Gaol: Taking a Break from Freedom

Karla Ramos takes you through the Crum, Ireland’s last remaining Victorian-era prison.

Freedom is a very important thing, especially for Filipinos. Much of our history has been drenched in the blood of our forebears fighting for liberty against oppressors, both foreign and local. And yet, many cannot really appreciate the true value of freedom unless they, too, have seen what it’s like to lose it.

And in my travels, I have seen many times how it’s like to lose it. But no, I have never been jailed myself! It’s just there are some places I visited that served as strong reminders of it.

In “The Crum

One such place is Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. Historical buildings are always great places to visit since they shine a light on the lifestyle of times long past. But this one is different. It feels heavy, and it feels dark. I think this is the same feeling one would get when visiting the bowels of the New Bilibid Prison back home. Here are some of the most important things about the gloomy Irish prison.

It is very important. The Crum,” as many locals call it, is the only remaining Victorian-era prison in Ireland. Today, it is an outstanding tourist attraction. It has been considered as among Belfast’s most important buildings, too. It stands next to the Courthouse, and both buildings had been designed by the renowned architect Sir Charles Lanyon.

It is easy to get lost. The prison is pretty big, and there are many maze-like turns — supposedly to confuse any escaping prisoners. When we came in, we were warned that we should not stray away from the group, as it is very easy to get lost! This happens mostly to those who had once been held prisoners here, and are now coming back to see the prison again as free men. Talk about revisiting memories!

It is really creepy. There are exhibits in The Crum’s basement, which contained items used for corporal punishment. They stood side by side with artworks created by prisoners, and a life-like wax statue of a guard. It made for a creepy place, especially against the low light. The other rooms of the prison didn’t help the atmosphere much. There’s the stifling Reception where the convicts were first taken to strip and deposit all their belongings. There’s also The Tunnel that led from the Courthouse, where prisoners passed — a shortcut between justice and the loss of liberty.

There are lots of ghost stories. The gaol had been a prison for more than a century and a half, and in those years the death penalty had been issued 17 times. Aside from men, these walls had also held women and children — probably innocents, too! One could expect that spooky stories abound, and there are many. Most of them involved The Tunnel!

It held a story of struggle. The Crumlin Gaol was also decorated with stories of struggles. One story particularly reminded me of home, especially during the time when Martial Law dissidents had been jailed for exercising their right of speech and demonstration. In The Crum, Suffragettes — females who fought for the right to vote — had also been jailed. They once launched a hunger strike and rejected even force-feeding! What’s nice is that they had been dealt with humanely, and they were sent home to get better before being returned to prison.

The Crumlin Gaol is an interesting place to visit, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It serves as an eye opener not only for the justice system in this part of the world but also to the conditions that these prisoners met. It also shows that even across the world, the loss of liberty is a painful thing, for whatever reason.

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