By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
A wing of the historic Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast is to be regenerated to become a whiskey distillery and visitor centre as part of a £22.3 million investment.
Forty-nine jobs will be created by Belfast Distillery Company after Stormont’s Department for Infrastructure provided a lease for the J&J McConnell’s Distillery project within the Grade A-listed building.
The jail housed scores of political prisoners up to its closure in 1996, before reopening its imposing Victorian doors as a tourist attraction in 2012.
Stormont Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey and Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd visited the site on Thursday to welcome the investment.
The distillery will extend over three floors, offering 1,000 square metres of distilling space and 1,700 square metres for the visitor centre.
It aims to attract more than 10,000 visitors to the site each year.
Visitor experiences will include whiskey tours, cocktail masterclasses, a tasting bar and a shop.
Job opportunities will be available at various levels across sales, marketing, operations, hospitality and finance.
Mr Lyons said: “This multimillion-pound investment will see the transformation of this historic Belfast building and create 49 new jobs, contributing over £1.7 million of additional annual salaries into the local economy.
“The global Irish whiskey industry has trebled in size over the last decade and Belfast Distillery Company is already a great addition to the sector.
“The J&J McConnell’s Distillery and Visitor Experience will boost our economy as both an export business and a tourism offering.
“I look forward to its continued growth to becoming a globally recognised brand in the international spirits sector.”
The Department of Communities and Invest Northern Ireland have provided a combined £1.9 million of support towards the project.
Ms Hargey said: “My department, through its Urban Development Grant programme, is providing much-needed investment in north Belfast with grant funding of £656,000 for the Belfast Distillery.
“The project will deliver economic, social and environmental improvements as well as creating jobs and boosting tourism in the area.”
Mr O’Dowd said: “The historic Crumlin Road Gaol setting will enhance this regeneration project and help to maximise its economic, social and environmental benefits to the local and wider community.
“I welcome the ambition of this project, the expectation that the distillery will help create jobs in north Belfast and bring more tourists into the area, and that it will play a key role in the regeneration of a significant historic building in Belfast.”
John Kelly, chief executive of Belfast Distillery Company, said: “We launched McConnell’s Irish Whisky in 2020 and we have already achieved significant success in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and China.
“In our home market, we are having great success with our product to date, experiencing significant support from our trade partners in hospitality and retail sectors.
“The J&J McConnell’s Distillery and Visitor Experience will become the home of our brand and will help us to take our business to the next level in the global whiskey market.
“The support we have received from across government has been vital to making this ambition a reality for us.
“We are truly delighted to be developing our distillery in north Belfast and look forward to working with and supporting our local community with employment opportunities.
“We look forward to helping our great city grow and develop in the years ahead.”
The project is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.