Notorious Belfast prison reinvented as distillery

Thu May 17, 2012 12:39pm EDT
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By Ian Graham

BELFAST (Reuters) - A notorious Belfast prison that held Irish Republican Army inmates during the worst of the city's sectarian strife is to be transformed into a Whiskey distillery as Northern Ireland tries to reinvent itself and its struggling economy.

A wing of the Victorian-era Crumlin Road prison, which closed in 1996, will house the first whiskey production in 75 years in a city that was once Ireland's largest producer and will offer exhibitions and tasting facilities for visitors.

It aims to reinvent a building synonymous with Northern Ireland's so-called "Troubles", which held a young Gerry Adams before he became Sinn Fein President and the Rev Ian Paisley who went on to become First Minister of Northern Ireland.

After 14 years of relative calm since a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of tit-for-tat killings between pro-British and Irish nationalist insurgents, Belfast is bidding to break its dependence on handouts from London by boosting tourism.

In recent months the city opened a 97-million pound ($155 million) 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 a boutique distillery in a wing of the Victorian prison, a Grade A listed building built in 1845.

The former bus driver won 10.2 million pounds ($16 million)in 1996 and now heads the Belfast Distillery Company (BDC), a consortium of local businessmen who are pumping 5 million pounds into the project.

Lavery last year launched two whiskeys - under the Titanic and Danny Boy brands - which are currently produced for him across the Irish border in Co Louth at the Cooley Distillery.   Continued...