Abandoned Belfast: Crumlin Road Courthouse

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Opposite the Crumlin Road Gaol, which once held violent criminals and political prisoners, is Crumlin Road Courthouse. It was designed by Charles Lanyon, once Mayor of Belfast, and completed in 1850 costing £16,500. It is located north of the city centre by the Lower Shankill estate and is a Grade B+ listed building. This imposing Neoclassical building has 6 main columns and a statue of Justice on the top, but unfortunately she has lost her scales.

History

Crumlin Road Courthouse was serving justice for nearly 150 years.Once convicted, prisoners would start their sentence by walking down into the dark, cold and cramped tunnels to make their way under the road and into Crumlin Road Gaol. After 1898 the Local Government (Ireland) Act which ended landlord control of local government and introduced county councils, Crumlin Road Courthouse became the meeting pace for Antrim County Council. The site was extended in 1906 to be able to continue being a court and the home of the County Council. However in the 1960s it was decided that the site was too small for both of its uses and so the county leaders moved to County Hall in Ballymena in 1970.

The trial of Robert McGladdery took place on Crumlin Road. McGladdery was the last man hanged in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Ireland. He was convicted of the murder of Pearl Gamble in 1961. The courthouse is also a symbol from The Troubles: a number of IRA members were tried and sentenced here, including Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, Paddy Devlin and David Ervine.

In 1983, 22 suspected IRA members were jailed for a total of 4000 years following a ‘supergrass’ trial. This was the biggest sentence given at that time. Other prominent Troubles cases held at Crumlin Road Courthouse include the UVF Shankill Butchers and Sean Kelly, an IRA Shankill bomber.

Post closure

The courthouse closed in June 1998 and unfortunately little has been done since then to save the building. It has been sold into private hands a couple of times which has done little to improve the state of the iconic building. In 2003 a local investor, Barry Gilligan, bought the courthouse for just £1. His plans for the site was to create a tourist attraction and hotel. In 2004 planning permission was granted to convert it into offices and then in 2007 permission for a 161 bedroom hotel. None of these ideas came to fruition and the site was dormant. The courthouse suffered 3 tragic fires in 2009. Once in March and two in August. These causes extensive structural damage to both the interior and the roof. Gilligan pulled out of the deal to develop the site siting a lack of grant help and the level of damage being unviable.

In 2012, Crumlin Road Gaol opened as a visitor attraction. This renewed talks about redeveloping the courthouse and to help regenerate the local area. In March 2017 Lawrence Kenwright from Signature Living Group bought the site and announced plans to turn it into a hotel. Kenwright pledged to spend £25 million and announced that “we have a history of redeveloping iconic and derelict building and transforming them into magnificent destinations which can be enjoyed”. However, this dream didn’t last long and the building was back on the market in 2019. In June 2020 there was further deliberate fire damage.

There have been several campaigns to bring the courthouse back under public ownership. Even though Stormont have been under pressure to do so this has not happened. The courthouse has been left to rot for the past 25 years. The site is not only an eyesore but due to the numerous fires the building could collapse, and this slice of history lost forever.

Last Updated on 2 May 2023 by Michael

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