Today being Father’s Day I wanted to do something that would appeal to my husband (no, not that). He gets dragged to open farms, soft play centres and parks all year round so definitely deserved a break. He’s an avid fan of the cultural and political history of Northern Ireland (I like watching reality TV – you can see we’re compatible can’t you?) and so I came up with the idea of taking him to the Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast, on the off-chance that they’d keep him or at least a couple of the kids.
We were ably assisted by our knowledgeable and patient tour guide, Roy. He seemed very sympathetic to our plight of being accompanied by a 6 year old chatterbox, a 4 year old who wanted to climb on basically everything he wasn’t allowed to climb on and a baby who was shouting in mono-syllables throughout his talks. The guided tour lasted around 1 hour 15 minutes and, despite our reservations about its suitability for children, was well enough broken up with ‘free time’ (i.e. to look around the various exhibits etc) to keep our unruly brood interested. Our 6 year old surprised us by actually being quite fascinated by it all.
Roy told us about the history of the prison and explained what would’ve happened in various parts of the buildings during the jail’s working life. We got to see into the Governor’s office, the underground tunnel to the nearby Courthouse, and the cells. As well as the information we were told by Roy there were also plenty of helpful plaques dotted around telling the history of different aspects of the prison.
I was so grateful to Roy for helpfully taking me aside at one point to alert me to the fact the tour was about to go to the ‘execution room’ where visitors would get to see the nooses used etc and we were able to sit that part of the tour out given that we had young kids. I should say at this point also that most of the tour is buggy friendly (unlike the demanding 7 month old I carried for the duration)!
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the jail and it’s history but it definitely wasn’t one of those tours where the guide rambles on and on. The information you get is succinct but enough to keep you interested throughout.
At no point did we feel frowned upon for having our kids with us. We felt as welcome as any other visitor.
Once the tour was over, we took the brave step of having a bite to eat in the aptly named ‘Cuffs’ restaurant. If you want to know why I’m terming it a ‘brave’ move on our part, let me refresh your memory to the fact that we have 3, yes THREE children. Any fellow parent will know that kids + eating out = disaster of epic proportion.
Cuffs is a really trendy looking restaurant with gorgeous modern decor and a modish menu to match. The fare on offer is simple (classy and edible without being pretentious) and delicious with a decent kids menu to boot. But what struck me most about the restaurant was the staff. As with our tour guide Roy, the restaurant staff were cheerful, helpful and accommodating. We felt welcome with the children. Even though panic had started to rise in me when I saw the ‘please wait here to be seated sign’ (knowing full well that my children do not do ‘seated’), I needn’t have worried. When my son threw one of those 0-60 in 4-seconds-flat tantrums (you know the ones where there’s actual floor-lying involved), the staff didn’t bat an eyelid. Nor were they flustered by my strong-minded 6 year old marching over to demand a dessert menu after she had waited ‘aaaaaaaaaggeessss’ (all of around 35 seconds) for someone to bring it to her.
In summary, Crumlin Road Gaol is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the staff, from the ticket desk to the restaurant, were pleasant and hospitable, even in the face of a couple of very uncouth and chocolate-stained children. We will be back!