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Prince Charles revealed Armagh Gaol interest in released letters

A decade-long campaign by the Guardian newspaper has led to the release today (Wednesday) of private letters written by Prince Charles, which showed his interest in the future redevelopment of Armagh Gaol more than a decade ago.

In all 27 letters were written by the Prince of Wales between September 2004 and April 2005 and also refer to the plans at Ebrington Barracks.

The publication today, with redactions, show the Royal’s interest in the conservation and reuse of the former women’s prison.

His own Prince’s Regeneration Trust later entered into agreement with the now former Armagh City and District Council and the Osborne Group to develop a boutique style hotel for the listed building.

The plans are currently in ‘limbo’, so to speak, as there are still difficulties pertaining to the various funding contributions expected from each of the partners.

His Royal Highness, who has visited Armagh on several occasions and toured the prison during one such occasion, had written to the then Secretary of State Paul Murphy back on September 6, 2004, after spending two nights at Hillsborough Castle.

The letter, one of 27 now released, refers specifically to the prison and discussions which Prince Charles had had with Mr Murphy at that time.

It states: “I mentioned the issue of Armagh Gaol and suggested that my Phoenix Trust would be only too happy to help with any advice with regard to its conservation and reuse.

“And while on the subject of gaols, I suggested that Ruthin Gaol would be a good example of the regeneration and reuse of a redundant and historic site for officials to visit.”

Ruthin, in Denbighshire, is the only purpose-built Pentonville style prison currently open to the public as a heritage attraction.

The Prince also refers to discussions with the former Northern Ireland Secretary on the issue of an Action-Learning Pilot Scheme which “has remained in abeyance since last year”.

He expresses the belief that, if implemented, the pilot scheme “could help break the mould of housing ‘ghettoes’ in Northern Ireland”.

Prince Charles assures Mr Murphy that two of his named officials would be “ready to help with these whenever you give the word”.

The former women’s prison closed in 1986.

The plan, involving the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, was for the multi-million pound redevelopment of a luxury hotel, restaurants, open air performance area and heritage centre.

In 2010 the scheme received a ‘first round pass’ from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the following year a consultation event was run to present ideas to key stakeholders and the local community.

There is still no light at the end of the tunnel in relation to funding and the redevelopment plan remains ‘parked’ at this stage.

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