Spike Island sits in Corks harbour, one of the world’s largest natural harbours. It is 104 acres, half a mile in length and one third of a mile in breadth. Its prime location has been the reason for its use as a monastery, defence and prison. Its history is rich and varied. The town of Cobh looks across the harbour to it. In September 2017, at the World Travel Awards, Spike Island was named 'Europe's Leading Tourist Attraction', ahead of the Acropolis in Athens, Buckingham Palace in London, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is one of the tourist attractions that Cork has to offer.
First settlement to smugglers
The first to have lived on Spike Island were said to have a monastic settlement. Saint Mochuda left twenty brothers on the island while he set off to preach to the Irish people. Smugglers were the next to take advantage of the islands rugged coastline. The island was ideal for them to smuggle and hide contraband.
Garrison and Correctional Facility
The British Government bought the island from a local landowner in 1779. This was the beginning of Spike Island as a defence fort. The location of the island was nothing short of perfect for the British army and Navy as both a supply source and as an assembly point for convoys.
The mid nineteenth century saw the island used as a holding point for convicts before penal transportation, mainly to Australia. Spike Island became known as ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’.
Spike Island continued to be both a garrison and a prison into the twentieth century until the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement in 1938, when Britain ceded the landholding to Ireland. The facility on the island was then renamed as Fort Mitchel. The Irish Army and Navy have had use of the islands facilities.
In the late twentieth century, the garrison or fort became a young offenders’ correctional facility. It was dormitory style accommodation for young offenders with very low security. These conditions were what the army and navy had previously lived in. 1985 saw a mob riot in the prison. The inmates used hooks, hoes and other implements as weapons. The few guards on duty had no way of controlling the riot. Reinforcements were requested from the mainland. Block A was burned out and subsequently closed. The repercussions of the riot were the Department of Justice put secure cells into the facility. The prison closed in 2007.
The Twenty-first Century
2009 saw ownership of the island transfer to Cork County Council. They set up a steering group to determine the future of the island, with a view to becoming a tourist attraction. The result was the development of Spike Island as a heritage site and tourist attraction. The fort itself is a museum and has heritage displays. There are currently more works underway inside the fort itself. The works should be completed early summer 2016.
Boats tours and water buses operate regularly from Cobh, weather permitting. The options are a tour around the island, to be brought to and from the island or harbour tours. The island boasts a café and guided walking tours. Spike Island Adventures is an independent business offering outdoor activities (kayaking, survival courses) and team building exercises at their site on Spike Island.
- Lee Valley