Fortress Spike Island set to attract 100,000 visitors annually

Conversion worth €6m transforms military outpost into compelling tourist attraction

Spike Island had its first artillery fortification built in the 18th century by the British.

Spike Island had its first artillery fortification built in the 18th century by the British.


Some 100,000 visitors a year are expected to visit Spike Island by 2020, said Mayor of Co Cork Cllr Seamus McGrath as he opened Fortress Spike Island officially.

A €6 million conversion has turned the former jail and British military fort into a tourist attraction in Cork Harbour.

Cllr McGrath told about 300 invited guests at the opening ceremony in the former barracks square at the island fort that Spike has proven a top tourist success following its takeover by Cork County Council from the Department of Defence in 2010.

“The success is in the numbers – from 16,000 visitors in 2013 to 32,000 visitors in 2015 and 10,000 visitors alone in August. The aim is to have 100,000 visitors by 2020 and already we are looking at access options to the island from other parts of the harbour as well as Cobh, ” he said.

Originally the site of a monastic settlement in the 7th century, Spike Island had its first artillery fortification built in the 18th century by the British. A series of forts were subsequently built on the 104 acre island in the late 18th and early 19th century.

It was used as a prison in the 19th century when thousands of prisoners were transported from Spike to Australia. The island remained under British control following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and it was only handed over in 1938 when the last British forces left.

Punishment block

Among the refurbishment works carried out on the island so far have been the installation of a Pontoon for ease of access for ferry passengers coming from Cobh, refurbishment and interpretation of the Gaol Punishment Block and Shell store, construction of a new Military Exhibition Yard and a new extension to the cafe.

Cork county manager Tim Lucey said he was confident the attraction will have a big increase in visitor numbers over the coming years from domestic and international visitors as they seek to visit Ireland’s equivalent to Alcatraz.

“Cobh has recently been named one of Europe’s best cruise destinations and I am confident that Fortress Spike Island will be a go to attraction, for our cruise visitors but also our national and international tourists,” he said.

John Crotty, general manager Spike Island Development Company, which runs the visitor attraction said the refurbishment will take place in several phases but the overall plan involves the construction of an aquarium and a museum in some of the fort’s buildings.

There are also plans to provide self catering accommodation on the island for visitors as they seek to capitalise on the island’s history as a centre for transportation of many Irish to Australia as well as its role as a major British military base throughout the 19th century, he said.

“We play a massive part in the transportation era – a minimum of 40,000 people passed through this place in the late 1800s. They would have mainly gone to Australia, but that would not include the prisoners we sent to America which again would be in the tens of thousands.

“A lot of people don’t realise that Spike Island was the largest prison in the world in 1850. And it was the largest prison in Britain and Ireland before and ever since. There has never been anything bigger; it was much bigger than Alcatraz, for example, so it has a massive story to tell.

“Of course it also was a huge military base. You have would have had tens of thousands of British troops here whose children were born here so there is a massive diaspora out there that we can try and educate about their history here on Spike and hopefully get them to visit the island.”