Spike Island is just a short trip by ferry from Cobh. In its lifetime, it has been through a lot, all which have left its mark. On the island of 104 acres there has been a monastery, a fortress and a prison. It is also said to have been visited by Vikings. Today, this is a great place for a picnic with its stunning views of the harbour, but more important than that, it is an entry gate into 1,400 years of Irish history.
It has been said that in AD 635 a monastery was founded on Spike Island by St. Mo Chutu mac Fínaill, also known as St. Carthage. Allegedly he and God were given the land in gratitude after he miraculously cured the king of Kerrycurrihy of blindness, deafness and lameness. On these grounds, Carthage created a religious community to build a church in God's honour, and he himself stayed there for a whole year.
With its long history as a place of detention and punishment, Spike Island has earned the title ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’. It was a holding centre for dispossessed Irish during Cromwell’s campaigns in the 1640s whilst waiting to be transferred to Barbados as slaves or indentured servants. From 1847 the island worked as a prison, but with a reduction in the amount of prisoners, it closed and became a military complex in 1883.
However, Spike Island had still not played out its role as a prison. During the War of Independence, it opened once again, and from 1972-1982 it was a military detention centre. Its last round as an imprisonment facility was from 1985-2004, when it was used as a civil prison to overcome a growing problem of car theft and joyriding in the inner cities.
Between roles of imprisonment and sanctuary, the island’s location in the mouth of Cork Harbour has also made it strategically important in a military context. Both a fort and naval service have occupied Spike Island over the years. The fort still stands and is one of the attractions you can see when visiting the island.
Getting to Spike Island
The goal of opening Spike Island to the public is to use and develop it as a vehicle for retelling 1,400 years of history and the Irish diaspora. An archaeological project has even begun at the UCC to investigate the nature of the 19th-century convict prison.
With accommodation on Little Island in Cork, it is easy getting to Spike Island. Drive or take the train to Cobh, and from here take the ferry out to the island. The ferry runs daily between April and September. On the island, either explore on your own and learn from the information boards or take the guided tour. The latter is definitely recommended as there is more to this island than meets the eye, and the guides are really knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
For help with travel details or booking tours, the staff at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Cork are more than happy to help out guests to make the most of their stay.