In the last 1300 years Spike Island has been host to a 6th century Monastery, a 24 acre Fortress, the largest convict depot in the world in Victorian times and centuries of island homes. The island’s rich history has included monks and monasteries, rioters and redcoats, captains and convicts and sinners and saints.
Today the island is dominated by the 200 year old Fort Mitchel, the star shaped Fortress which became a prison holding over 2300 prisoners. Take the scenic ferry ride from Kennedy Pier, Cobh, and enjoy a fully guided tour of our island and fortress, and relax in our cafe and picnic areas. Get captured in the history and mystery of this magical heritage island.
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For over two centuries there has been a military presence on Spike Island. In the 1770s, during the turmoil of the American War of Independence and at a time when Ireland was a key part of the British Empire, Cork and its harbour was used as an assembly and reception point for convoys.
There have been three forts on Spike Island. In 1789 building work began on a stone-built fort designed by Colonel Charles Vallancey to succeed an earlier earthwork fort, demolished in 1783 to save on rent costs. It was named ‘Fort Westmoreland’ in honour of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1789 to 1794.
The fort that exists today, the third fort, was constructed between 1804 and the 1860s and is a six-bastioned star-shaped fort. These artillery fortifications presented a low profile with sloping earthen sides to absorb cannon fire. The bastions were angled to maximize defensive fire from concealed positions within the fort and most of the buildings were well concealed to prevent bomb damage.
Over the course of its history, what is now called Fort Mitchel has been used as a base by the British and the Irish armies, the Irish Coastal Defence and the Irish Navy at various times.
In 1847 Spike Island became a convict depot. The Irish nationalist and writer John Mitchel was held here for three days in 1848 before being transported to Bermuda. Fearing that he might be rescued by other Irish Nationalists, Mitchel was later moved to Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania). Mitchel’s Jail Journal – one of Irish nationalism’s most famous texts – was conceived and perhaps started while he was incarcerated on Spike Island.
By 1850 over 2,000 convicts were detained on Spike Island. In the 1860 and 1870s several Fenian prisoners were held here but in 1883 the last of the prisoners was relocated to prisons on the mainland.
Almost a century later, the island became a prison again. Between 1985 and 2004 the fort was used to hold young offenders – mainly ‘joyriders’ convicted of stealing and recklessly driving cars.
A riot in August 1985 received international media coverage and led to the reorganisation of the prison and the conversion of the north-east and north-west casemates into secure cells that can still be seen today.
Will you escape from Fortress Spike?