Engaging Ireland News

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Spike Island – One Island, Three Histories

Because of its strategic location in Cork Harbour just off the coast near Cobh, Spike Island has a long and varied history. There is much more to it than can be mentioned here, but this is a very general overview.

The earliest settlement gave it the start of its monastic history. St. Carthage is credited as having founded a monastery on the island in the seventh century.

Spike Island also has an extensive history as a place of detention. In the 1640s (during Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland) the island was used as a detention center for Irish who were being transplanted to live in Barbados as slaves. Until their ship came to pick them up, they were used as labor by the English forces who held the island.

During the years called “The Famine,” prisoners who had been sentenced to ‘transport’ (mainly to Australia and Tasmania) were held here until they were shipped out.

During the War of Independence, many members of the Irish Volunteers were held on Spike Island.

And from 1972 until 1982, it was used to hold military prisoners, most generally enlisted men who were found to have broken the rules of service.

The military moved off of Spike Island in 1983. In 1985 the Department of Defence turned over the island to the Irish Prison Service (Dept. of Justice), and a civilian prison was operated there until 2004.

As was already mentioned, Spike Island’s third history is a military one. Ireland’s Naval Service used the island as a military base from 1979 – 1985.

Prior to that, the English built Fort Westmoreland in the 1700s and Fort Westmoreland II was begun in the early 1800s and completed in 1840. This is the star-shaped fortification that can be seen today.

A visit to Spike Island from Kennedy Pier includes a short boat ride. It is not necessary to purchase a guided tour of the island; however, unless you are very familiar with the island or read Dr. Michael Martin’s book (shown above) about the history of the island, a guided tour is recommended. Otherwise, you will see many gray stone buildings and have no idea what you’re looking at. Tickets may be purchased here
(and pre-purchase is highly recommended, as the tours will not operate unless there are a minimum number of participants): http://www.titanic.ie/tours/spike-island-guided-walking-tour

The island has only been open for visitors for a couple of years now. Perhaps, in a few years there will be informational signs installed or an audio tour implemented, so visitors will know what the buildings were used for. For more information on Spike Island, visit the official website at http://www.spikeislandcork.ie

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 10:33 am.

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Spike Island Tours Commence

Guided tours of Spike Island, the former prison site off the coast of Cobh in Cork Harbour, began on Saturday, July 31st. By all accounts, there is a great deal of interest from people wanting to take the tour. The first boat that left Kennedy Pier at 2 p.m. for the island’s inaugural tour was packed to capacity, with a substantial queue waiting to purchase tickets from the booth on the pier (http://cobhedition.com/?p=5608).  The Cobh Edition online newspaper reports that 2010 tours will take place seven days a week at 2 p.m., beginning with the inaugural tour on July 31 and continuing until the end of September, with additional tours being added each day if there is demand.

Tickets for the tours may be purchased at the ticket booth on Kennedy Pier. An adult ticket currently costs €12.50, which includes the boat trip and the tour. Children under the age of 12 cost €8. And an ‘introductory’ ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children costs €30. For further information, send your enquiries to spikeislandguidedwalkingtours@gmail.com, or you may visit the booking office on Kennedy Pier.

The Cobh Edition has a great article here about what you can expect on the tour: http://cobhedition.com/?p=5601, and, if you’re interested in reading more about the history of Spike Island, there’s a bit of information here: http://www.passagewestmonkstown.ie/spike-island.asp. Wondering what else you can do in Cobh and the Great Island? Here are 101 ideas: http://www.cobhharbourchamber.ie/island101.html!

Posted 7 years ago at 4:56 pm.

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