Spike Island, County Cork

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Spike Island
Native name: Inis Pic
Spike Island Cork Fort Mitchel Gates.jpg
Tourists at the gates of Fort Mitchel on Spike Island
Spike Island, County Cork is located in island of Ireland
Spike Island, County Cork
Spike Island in Ireland
Spike Island
Location Cork Harbour
Coordinates 51°50′05″N 8°17′11″W / 51.8347°N 8.2864°W / 51.8347; -8.2864
Area 0.41 km2 (0.16 sq mi)
Length 0.8 km (0.5 mi)
Width 0.5 km (0.31 mi)
County County Cork

Spike Island (Irish: Inis Píc) is an island of 103 Acres[1] in Cork Harbour, Ireland. Originally the site of a monastic settlement,[2] the island is dominated by an 18th-century star fort named Fort Mitchel. The island's strategic location within the harbour meant it was used at times for defence and as a prison, but as of the early 21st century is under development as a heritage tourist attraction.[3]


The island was the site of a monastic settlement in the 7th century,[4][2] and was used by smugglers for some time.[5]

Its location at the entrance to Cork Harbour meant that the island held strategic importance, and it was a significant site in the French intervention following the Glorious Revolution. The island was later purchased by the British government in 1779 and Fort Westmoreland was developed on the site to designs by Charles Vallancey.[5][6] The fort was proposed by the Royal Engineer Charles Holloway[7] and named for John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and fortified gun emplacements were constructed facing the mouth of the harbour.

Plan of Spike Island

Later a prison and convict depot, the island was used to house "convicts" prior to penal transportation. It gained a reputation as "Ireland's Alcatraz".[3] It remained in use as a garrison and prison through the Irish War of Independence, when IRA prisoners were held there. Richard Barrett was among those detained there, but escaped during the truce of 1921.

Treaty port[edit]

On 6 December 1921, the Anglo Irish Treaty was concluded. It provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State which happened on 6 December 1922. The Treaty included provisions by which the British would retain sovereignty over three strategically important ports known as the Treaty ports, one of which being described in the Treaty as:[8]


(b) Harbour defences to remain in charge of British care and maintenance parties. Certain mooring buoys to be retained for use of His Majesty's ships.

A member of the British Army (with family) departing following the secession of Spike Island (July 1938)

Accordingly, even after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Royal Navy continued to maintain its presence at Spike Island. Spike Island remained under British sovereignty until 11 July 1938 when, pursuant to the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement of 25 April 1938, the territory was seceded to Ireland. The hand-over ceremonies were attended by senior military and political figures, including Eamon de Valera and Frank Aiken.[9]

History since handover[edit]

Following its handover to Ireland, the island's installations were renamed Fort Mitchel - after John Mitchel, nationalist activist and political journalist who was held on the island for a time.[5] (Similar Treaty Port fortifications at Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle were similarly renamed to Fort Meagher and Fort Davis respectively.)[10] The island remained the site of a prison and military base (for the regular Irish Army, the FCÁ and later the Navy) for some time. Late into the 20th century it was used as a youth correctional facility. On 1 September 1985 inmates rioted and, as a subsequent Dáil committee reported, "civilians, prison officers and the Gardai on the Island were virtual prisoners of the criminals".[11] During the riot, one of the accommodation blocks, Block A, caught fire and is known as the Burnt Block. This prison facility closed in 2004.[1]

The island also had a small civilian population, which was serviced by a small school, church and ferry (launch) service to Cobh. The island is known locally for having excellent earth for growing crops.[citation needed] The civilian population has since left the island however, with many previous residents moving to nearby Cobh.[citation needed]

Tourism development[edit]

In May 2006 the then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell announced plans to build a new prison on the island. However in January 2007, it was decided to explore an alternative site for the new prison, and a local task group was set up to re-open Spike as a historical tourist site. In 2009 it was announced that ownership of the island would be transferred (free of charge) to Cork County Council to enable its development as a tourist attraction.[12] The Council formed a steering group to explore how Spike Island might be developed as a tourist site,[13] and the Council subsequently licensed operators to give guided tours of the island.

Six inch coastal defence gun in casemate in the fort

Tours now depart from Cobh during the summer,[14] taking in the fort, prison cells, and gun emplacements. There is a café in the former prison gym which caters to visitors.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Hopes for Alcatraz-style tourism after handover of Cork's Spike Island". Irish Times. 29 July 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "History - Island sanctuary". Spikeislandcork.ie. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Plan to unlock potential of 'Ireland's Alcatraz'". Irish Independent. 29 July 2009. 
  4. ^ Martin, Michael (2007). Spike Island: Saints, Felons and Famine. Dublin: The History Press. ISBN 184588910X. 
  5. ^ a b c "Cork Harbour: Spike Island". Passage West Town Council. 
  6. ^ "Westmorland Fort, Spike Island, County Cork". Irish National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Philippart, John (1820). The Royal Military Calendar, Or Army Service and Commission Book ..., Volume 3. p. 335. 
  8. ^ Anglo Irish Treaty
  9. ^ "Cork Forts Handed Over". The Times. 12 July 1938. 
  10. ^ "A Yankee and Rebel Side by Side in Cork Harbour". Irish in the American Civil War. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Dáil Select Committee on Criminal Lawlessness and Vandalism (1986). "Report No. 11 - Disturbance at Fort Mitchel prison, Spike Island on the 1st September 1985". Oireachtas. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "BreakingNews.ie - Spike Island to become tourist attraction". Thomas Crosbie Media. 28 July 2009. 
  13. ^ "Press Release - "Spike Island, Cork Harbour - Unlocking the Potential"". Cork County Council. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. 
  14. ^ "Where is Spike Island?". Spike Island Project. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°50′N 8°17′W / 51.833°N 8.283°W / 51.833; -8.283