When I went to jail

DSC_1289

I have been to prison twice in my life and very interesting and educational experiences they have been too. They have also been thought-provoking, raising questions about crime and punishment.

The first was Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, some years ago. The second was Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

DSC_1307

What did I do wrong to land in jail? Well, nothing. For those readers who don’t know, these two former prisons are open to the public and if you are in either of those cities, and are curious about Irish social and political history, they are worth a visit.

Work on Crumlin Road Gaol was started in 1843, after being designed by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in 1841. It was ready for the first inhabitants in 1846. 106 men, women – and children – were marched on foot in chains from Carrickfergus Gaol in 1846. The prison finally closed in 1996.

DSC_1283

 

On our tour, we were given glimpses into the reception area, where prisoners first arrived, holding cells and the fascinating tunnel which went under the, now busy, road to the courthouse. Unfortunately the courthouse is currently an empty building but our guide told us that a hotel company has bought it and is hoping to redevelop it.

DSC_1282

The tunnel was creepy. I would hate to be there by myself and it is no surprise there are paranormal events there. Our guide told us a tale of a previous tour when a little boy asked who the man was at the bottom of the tunnel. The guide looked where the child was pointing and said there was no man (and neither should there have been). The child remained adamant.

Spooky.

DSC_1287

We also saw the governor’s office and the cell block. There were five blocks leading off from the main section. In one block, which they have opened for the public, we saw snapshots of what the cells may have been like in the 1800s – and the 1970s.

 

DSC_1300

We learnt of the different punishments, such as the Crank, a device where a prisoner had to push down a lever to turn it. If it seemed too easy, the screw got tightened, hence the term ‘screws’.

DSC_1296

And then we saw the ‘death row cell’. This room was very different to the others and being there and hearing about it made me feel very cold. Three members of the famous Pierrepont family were executioners. What a horrific job.

Perhaps not a place for the overly sensitive, but it is such a fascinating place and it does show how our prisons and other punishments in Ireland and Britain have changed over the years.

Facts of the Day

1. During the Irish Famine (1845 to 1851), the number of crimes was nearly 3 times the number reported just before the disaster. It is thought that starving people were committing crimes such as theft so they could be sentenced to prison and therefore be able to eat the sparse prison diet. 

2. Eamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic during the 1919-22 Troubles, was imprisoned for one month in 1924. He had breached an order excluding him from Northern Ireland.

3. Suffragettes were imprisoned during the campaign for women’s right to vote before the first World War. 

Information from Souvenir Guidebook to Crumlin Road Gaol. http://www.crumlinroadgaol.com

DSC_1286

 

Advertisements

City of hope

DSC_1339

Guess where the seals are from? I’ll tell you later! 🙂

DSC_1343

City Hall, a grand building and convenient landmark. It stopped us getting lost many a time! 

Here’s a confession. I never wanted to visit Belfast in Northern Ireland. I had the chance in 2009 when my family and I went to Ballycastle for a week’s break (County Antrim is absolutely stunning). We could have gone to Belfast but we opted for Derry, Londonderry, Lovely-Derry (delete as appropriate to you). True, there were the Loyalist and Nationalist flags and murals but it seemed more in-the-past, more historical, less intimidating, and besides, Belfast is a much bigger city, so I was bound to be more apprehensive anyway.

I was mostly prejudiced by the news footage from the 20th century with the differing communities fighting amongst each other. All very scary and bloody.

To find out the reasons why, it’s necessary to look into the history of it all and then the reasons behind the violence and segregated communities starts to become clearer. But I don’t have the room to outline it all here and I’m no expert so this tale isn’t about The Troubles.

This is a story about Belfast Post-Troubles.

Twenty years since the peace process (the treaty was signed in 1998, yes, it is the 20th anniversary this year), it is possible to go on a hop-on hop-off bus into the staunch Loyalist and Republican areas – Falls Road and Shankill Road. The murals are now curious, interesting and, actually, some are rather artistic.

DSC_1249

DSC_1230

Of course, they are still a stark reminder of the violence of that time. Some are still threatening to look at, portraying gunmen, but they’re not as intimidating as back before the peace process. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to live here at that time. Amid the old-style ‘war murals’ (our tour guide said it was indeed like living in a civil war zone), more optimistic artwork is blossoming, such as this peace mural.

DSC_1263

Now, instead of shrill bangs and bombs going off, you get loud squeals of laughter from hen and stag parties. The array of olde worlde pubs in Belfast appear to be very popular too. Is Belfast now becoming the party capital of Northern Ireland (maybe even of Ireland, Britain and the whole of Europe)?! 🎉🎈🎉

DSC_1207

The shipbuilding industry is gone (although the Titanic remnants are still there, witness the ‘Samson and Goliath’ cranes with H and W proudly etched on. That’s Harland and Wolff, the makers of Titanic). You can learn more on the Titanic boat tour or the museum.

DSC_1340

Becoming a post-industrial city, like many others, especially in an internet age of shopping, has hit Belfast hard. There is graffiti and neglect, yet there are signs of hope.

For instance, the redevelopment of the docks, new non-sectarian artwork and modern shiny buildings, including the SSE Arena.

DSC_1326

I don’t doubt, looking at the peace wall still separating the two communities, there is still tension and mistrust.

DSC_1265

The last 20 years won’t wipe it out immediately. It will take time and patience. And when I was there, there appeared to be a political stalemate at Stormont, pictured below. Brexit – the UK voting to leave the EU, while Ireland remains in it – is an added complication.

DSC_1211

It would be much more than a shame if all the hard work over the years was thrown away. It’s my personal view that prosperity and peace go together, and that compromise, giving people a voice and listening to each point of view can go a long way towards making a happier place.

So now maybe you are thinking I had placed a picture of seals by mistake. What has a piece about a post-industrial city, still with scars from The Troubles, have to do with a colony of seals?

DSC_1339

But it was no mistake. They are real Belfast seals, having returned to the river after many years of shipbuilding had left it dirty, poisoned and polluted. The water was cleaned of the contamination and now fish and seals have come back.

To me, they are a sign of hope. If the seals can come back and thrive then, well, so can peace. 🙂

As an added P. S – Despite my initial prejudices, I enjoyed Belfast, it’s an interesting, vibrant and fun city. And even if you’re not a city-person, the countryside in Northern Ireland is absolutely beautiful.