Used as an Island prison, fortress, monastery and home, today visitors can meet captains and convicts and sinners and saints as you uncover 1300 years of Irish history. With prison cells, deep tunnels, island walks and multiple museums, explore the 'Irish Alcatraz' via a guided tour or using the free map and app. Access to the island is by ferry from Kennedy pier, Cobh, go to www.spikeislandcork.ie for sailings and opening times.
The islands recorded history goes back to the 7th century when St Mochuda founded a monastery on this magical island. Monks walked the island trails for 300 years until the Vikings sailed into Cork harbour, and for many centuries the island was used by smugglers, pirates and as an island home.
In 1779 work began on a fortress and this would become the impressive 24 acre Fort Mitchel which crowns the island today. Able to garrison 3000 men and with guns that could fire a shell 12 miles, the fort was so important that Winston Churchill called Spike Island 'the sentinel tower of the defences of Western Europe'.
The fortress that was built to defend an empire became the largest prison in the world in the 1850's, as the famine raged in Ireland and people resorted to stealing food to survive. The prison opened in 1847 and soon held over 2300 inmates, and there has never been a larger prison in Ireland or Britain before or since. Conditions at 'Ireland's Alcatraz' were terrible and 1300 poor souls would never leave the island, buried now in mass graves with no headstone. Today visitors can explore the dark cells of the punishment block, Ireland's most notorious prison. You can walk the children's prison which held boys as young as 11, and sit in solitary cells.
The prison closed in 1883 and the fort was used by first the British and then the Irish military, as island social life continued for 2 centuries. A prison would return in 1985 and a riot that year forced the islanders to evacuate, ending centuries of island social life. The prison would continue until 2004 and today you can walk the modern cells. Hear stories of daring escapes, Irish rebels, Ireland's most notorious criminal and a dark past.
Today the island has several museums and exhibitions on the social, military, penal and monastic past, and there are stunning views as you complete the 'Ring of Spike', a 5km walking trail with interpreted signage.
You can also visit the cafe and gift shop for a hard-earned rest. With a free map and app on arrival and included guided tour with Ireland's best storytellers, it's your day, your way, at Fortress Spike Island.
Call 0212373455 for tour bookings. Advance booking recommended.