This is a cell in The Crumlin Road Prison Belfast. It’s now a grade A listed building which dates back to 1843 when it was designed and built by Charles Lanyon. Lanyon also built Queens University, The Custom House and The Palm House Botanic Gardens among others.
For most people in Belfast and across the island of Ireland, Crumlin Road prison evokes memories of conflict. The link is very much justified with an estimated 25,000 people imprisoned there during its history, whether as a result of internment, or on remand of sentence as political prisoners. The use of Crumlin Road Gaol to house internees was not a new concept, with republicans interned between 1922 and 1924, and again in the 1940s and 1950s during the IRA’s border campaign.
In the gaol’s lifetime 17 men were executed by hanging, their bodies buried within the prison walls in unconsecrated ground. The only marker was the men’s initials, scratched into the wall against the year of execution.
Of the 17 executed between 1854 and 1961, 15 were for criminal murder, one semi-political and one, Tom Williams, for political action which resulted in the death of an RUC member. The execution of nineteen-year-old Williams on September 2, 1942, was the most emotive to be carried out in the history of the gaol, and was carried out by Thomas Pierrepoint. Pierrepoint was the most regular of the hangmen to appear in the gaol, carrying out six executions between 1928 and 1942, the last being Williams.