A notorious Belfast prison that held IRA inmates during the worst of the city’s sectarian strife is to be transformed into a whiskey distillery as the North tries to revive its economy.
A wing of the Victorian-era Crumlin Road prison, which was closed in 1996, will house the first whiskey production in 75 years in a city that was once Ireland’s largest whiskey producer, and will offer exhibitions and tasting facilities for visitors.
It aims to reinvent a building synonymous with the Troubles, which held Gerry Adams, before he became Sinn Féin president, and the Reverend Ian Paisley, who went on to become first minister of Northern Ireland.
Crumlin Road also held Éamon de Valera, later the Republic’s Taoiseach and then President, after he was accused of entering the North illegally shortly after partition in 1921.
After 14 years of relative calm since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 ended three decades of violence, Belfast is bidding to break its dependence on handouts from London by boosting tourism.
In recent months, the city opened a £97m (€120.7m) museum at the shipyard that built the Titanic and a large new arts centre.
The government has awarded a lease to lottery millionaire Peter Lavery to establish the boutique distillery in a wing of the Victorian prison, a Grade A listed building built in 1845.
The former bus driver won £10.2m in 1996 and now heads the Belfast Distillery Company, a consortium of local businessmen that is pumping £5m into the project.
Mr Lavery last year launched two whiskeys — under the Titanic and Danny Boy brands — which are currently produced across the border in Co Louth at the Cooley Distillery.
“I’m delighted that we will be able to bring production of the whiskeys home to Belfast,” said Mr Lavery.
Irish whiskey, whose 19th century domination of global production collapsed in the early 20th century, has seen a revival in recent years.
Exports from the Republic rose by 60% since 2000, according to the Government, although they remain a fraction of whisky exports from Scotland.
Jim Beam, the US bourbon giant which recently bought the Cooley distillery, is to provide all the technical support for the new project, which will produce five- and 10-year-old malts.