On arrival Her Majesty and HRH were greeted by the Lord–Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast Dame Mary Peters DBE and were accompanied by Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
On 31 March 1996 the Governor of Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol walked out of the fortified prison and the heavy air-lock gates slammed shut for the final time, bringing to an end 150 years of history. The Gaol, a nineteenth century Grade ‘A’ listed building, has recently undergone a significant restoration and its doors are now open once again, but this time to the public. It is now a place for the many visitors wishing to explore first-hand the building’s colourful past and gain a unique and memorable insight of the daily lives and routines of both prisoners and prison officers over the Gaol’s existence. Today you can take a guided tour of the prison and hear about the history of the site from when women and children were held within its walls, through to the separation of republican and loyalist prisoners, and learn about why the decision was taken to close the prison.
Moving inside to the courtyard the Royal Couple met Councillor Nichola Mallon, The Lord Mayor of Belfast, and The Rt Hon Nigel Dodds MP, Member of Parliament for North Belfast. The Rt Hon Peter D Robinson MLA, First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuiness MLA, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, also met on arrival and introduced Tim Losty, Director, Strategic Regeneration, and Averil Gaw, Manager of Regeneration, Crumlin Road Gaol.
In the courtyard and accompanied by Mr Losty and Mrs Gaw, Her Majesty and HRH met forty children and their teachers from local schools, and a string Quartet from the Belfast School of Music. Proceeding up the steps and along the Governor’s Corridor, the Royal Couple viewed a number of photographs and heard a short overview on the regeneration of the Gaol. HM and HRH also met Peter Lavery, Managing Director, Belfast Distillery Company, and heard about his plans for a boutique Whiskey Distillery in the Gaol’s “A” Wing. They also met Phelim Devlin, Director Belfast Tours Limited, and heard an outline of the range of tours provided within the Gaol.
In the Circle Her Majesty and HRH met a number of groups of invited guests representing the following areas Community Organisations, Local Sporting Organisations, Vice Chancellors /Principals from local Universities, Colleges and Schools, Local business leaders, Faith-based leaders, Public bodies and local health professionals. Background music was provided by Harpist Meabh Magee.
Her Majesty and HRH listened to words of welcome from the First Minister and deputy First Minister and Her Majesty was then presented with a posy by Mrs Edel Quinn and HRH with a gift of a bottle of 15 year-old “Dannyboy” whiskey.
Prior to departure, HM and HRH embarked on a short tour of the Gaol’s “C” Wing and met two of the Visitor Attraction Guides in Victorian costume. On moving outside the Gaol the Royal Couple received a rapturous farewell from Guests, children and teachers who had gathered to wave farewell.