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Belfast prison wing becomes whiskey distillery

The A-Wing of Crumlin Road Gaol in Northern Ireland, which housed key figures during The Troubles, has been transformed into a whiskey distillery by its American owners.

a whisky distill at the scotch highlands.

Last week saw the official opening ceremony of a new distilling operation following a £30 million investment by American owners Belfast Distillery Company.

Having closed as a prison in 1996, the A-Wing of Crumlin Road Gaol is now home to the production of McConnell’s Irish Whisky, with the first bottles expected to be available for purchase in 2029.

Joe Babiec, managing director of Belfast Distillery Company, admitted he had not appreciated “how complicated a job this would be”, but added that the final result had “exceeded expectations”.

It is hoped the venture will give tourism a boost in Belfast, with 100,000 visitors expected to drop in per year.

“Having two distilleries in Belfast and some great distilleries in County Down and Bushmills gives Belfast and Northern Ireland a great opportunity to bring whiskey tourists north,” said John Kelly, chief executive of McConnell’s.

The Troubles

Among the Irish political ministers attending the distillery’s opening ceremony was Economy Minister Conor Murphy, who was sentenced to five years internment in the jail in 1982 for possession of explosives and alleged provisional IRA membership.

“I was resident here, not voluntarily,” he said. “It’s remarkable to be back in here to see how it is transformed. A building like this was synonymous at that time with the Troubles, with imprisonment, with riots, with killings, with bombings.”

He added that the repurposing of the jail “epitomises the story of transformation” in Northern Ireland.

“Now it’s a place we are able to bring tourists to, where we are able to tell the story of our conflicted past in a way that does not do damage to anyone, but also tell the story of the opportunity that has now been created out of this building.

Murphy said that the building has not only been developed into a whisky distillery but also an exporting business, “which is something we’re looking to encourage.”

McConnell’s Irish Whisky has been in the distilling game since 1776. In April 1909 a fire burned down all of McConnell’s warehouses on Dunbar Street in Belfast, with half a million gallons of whiskey destroyed. However, the brand managed to keep going until the 1930s when it shut up shop due to the introduction of Prohibition in the US.

According to McConnells’ website, with the re-opening of a distillery in Crumlin Road Gaol, “the legend has been reborn.”

Initial bottlings will include McConnell’s Five Year Old and McConnell’s Sherry Cask.

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