Tourists invited to serve time in Armagh prison

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The cells of Armagh Jail, which once held Bernadette Devlin and the Price sisters, are set to welcome holidaymakers under plans to transform Northern Ireland's oldest prison into a luxury hotel.

Tonight, the public will have a chance to view multimillion-pound plans to redevelop a building which was one of the key detention centres for women during the Troubles.

Future residents will be afforded significantly more luxury than those in the past. The building, which hosted numerous executions during its 230-year history, is to be converted into a four-star hotel.

Bernadette Devlin, who was jailed there for six months for her part in the Bogside Riots in 1969, noted: "I just hope the food is better there now." The former Republican MP who now works with community empowerment group Step said: "My main concern would be ensuring that such a beautiful building is maintained and that the money from the sale is put back into improving prison conditions."

A spokesman for Armagh City Council, which owns the site, said they had chosen the developer who had converted Oxford jail into an award-winning Malmaison Hotel.

"The developer was chosen because of the sympathetic way it had treat a similar project in Oxford," he said

It is unclear whether the council will receive any payment from the developer for the lease of the site but a spokesman said that any proceeds would go into improving services for rate-payers as the prison service no longer had any ownership of the site.

"The beauty of this project is that the city of Armagh offloads the burden of redeveloping such a large site while getting the economic benefits of having a brand new hotel built nearby."

The project is a joint venture between The Prince's Regeneration Trust and the Trevor Osbourne Property Group. The developers have secured a 100-year lease on the building, which stands at the south end of Armagh's picturesque Mall area. This means that ownership of the site will remain with Armagh City Council.

The listed building was designed by prominent Irish architects, Francis Cooley and William Murray. It was closed as a prison in 1986.

Troubles revisited: Plans for The Maze

*A development corporation will consider the future of The Maze after plans to build a sports complex on the site were rejected. Built in 1976 for prisoners of the Troubles, it held 1,700 in the 1980s. In 1981, 10 inmates died during hunger strikes to protest against the government's "crim-inalisation" of convicted terrorists.

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