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19 Oct 2012

Luxury hotel and spa to open at historic Armagh jail
BY Aoife Dowling

It held murderers and madmen behind its walls for three centuries but now one of Northern Ireland's most notorious jails Armagh Gaol is a step closer to becoming a luxury hotel and spa.

A planning application has been submitted which seeks to redevelop the former Armagh prison into a mixed-use property that will provide a 65-bed hotel with a spa and conference facilities as well as an education and heritage centre and restaurants, bars and shops.

Trevor Osborne Property Group, in conjunction with the Prince's Regeneration Trust, has been appointed to regenerate the prison by Armagh City and District Council.

The combined £25m investment is a joint private and public venture, which will see the renovation of the historic Grade B+ listed building.

The hotel will be surrounded by Georgian houses and will overlook the city's famous Mall and courtyard. It will also enable residential development and shared public areas as the focus for a range of events, organised cross-community activities and school visits.

In addition to the thousands of members of the public who have recently toured the Gaol, HRH Prince of Wales experienced the historic building first hand on his recent visit to Armagh City as part of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations

Ros Kerslake, chief executive of The Prince's Regeneration Trust said: "We believe that re-using an area's heritage creates unique and relevant regeneration projects that are sustainable and accessible.

"The Gaol is a beautiful site and to be able to develop it into something that everyone can access and benefit from is an exciting opportunity."

The prison was built on the site of a military barracks replacing an earlier Gaol called the Hole in the Wall, which is still in the city centre as a pub in the same name.

In the old jail, prisoners sentenced to execution were marched out onto a hill to be hanged, drawing large crowds. Although hanging was still open to the public in the new jail, they kept executions confined to the premises.

The last execution in Armagh Gaol was of 22-year-old Joseph Fee from Clones, Co Monaghan in 1904. He had been found guilty of murder.

Death came to Armagh prison in other ways besides executions. More than 30 inmates died in 1847 - victims of terrible Famine fevers. In more recent times during the troubles of 1969-1990s a woman prison officer, Agnes Wallace was murdered during a bomb and gun attack by the IRA at the Gaol entrance.

The Gaol has been an integral part of Armagh's history over the last two centuries. A decision on the planning permission application is expected in six to eight weeks.

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