From the Cells to City Hall: Last Day in Belfast

Irish lesson time. (not that I know much)

Gaol: pronounced as “jail”; meaning: jail

Craic: pronounced as “crack”; used in casual conversation in various ways to describe a good time

“What’s the craic?”

“Havin’ a craic”

It was a good craic”

Speaking of gaol, we visited the Crumlin Road Gaol on our last day in the city. Booking it across town, we made it for our tour. The gaol closed in 1996 toward the end of the Troubles. In the beginning, the gaol was open during the famine, so many people would commit petty crimes to land them in a cell where they would have food and shelter. This included women and children. As times went on, the type of criminal changed. Those participating in the rebellions of the Troubles became the primary prisoners. Crumlin Road was especially known for its hunger strikes during those times.

Crumlin

During the tour, we were led into a small cell where the condemned would have his final hours. It was a simple room with a bed, a cross, and a small table. A bathroom was attached with a toilet, sink, and shelving unit. As the guide discussed what would happen before a hanging, we waited in the main cell, our guide in the bathroom. Suddenly, he pushed aside the shelf, and hidden behind it was a door. That door opened to reveal a back room with a noose, hanging from a beam overhead. As surprised as we were, the condemned man must have been even more shocked. He was standing meters away from his place of death. He thought he was safe in that room. He was wrong.

To brighten our spirits a bit, we wandered back in to the center of town, popped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then had a quick lunch in a hole-in-the wall cafe.

Next on the itinerary: Town Hall, a beautiful building both inside and out. In one of the halls, the portraits of all the Lord Mayors line the walls. When elected, the Lord Mayor chooses the artist to paint his portrait. The youngest Lord Mayor’s portrait, Niall Ó Donnghaile, is the most modern; he chose a muralist to paint his portrait, allowing it to stand out amid the more classical paintings. When the building was damaged in WWII, all but one portrait were completely destroyed. The one that remains is displayed as it was found, tattered and torn.

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