Hopes for Alcatraz-style tourism after handover of Cork's Spike Island


THE TRANSFER of Spike Island from State control to Cork County Council paves the way for the development of Ireland’s first Alcatraz-style tourist attraction and will allow public access to the island, which was previously closed to visitors.

The Cork Harbour island houses a former prison and has a historical legacy stretching back to the 7th century.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin yesterday confirmed the transfer of Spike Island from the Department of Justice to Cork County Council to develop the site for tourism.

The 106 acre island is home to Fort Mitchel prison, which operated as a 102 prisoner capacity facility from 1985 until its closure in 2004.

In 2006, a campaign led by Cobh-based historian Michael Martin was launched to highlight the history of the island and its tourism, cultural and amenity potential.

The first known use of Spike Island was as a monastic settlement when a religious community was established on the island in the 7th century. It was first used as a place of confinement in the 17th century following the end of the Cromwellian wars.

During the late 18th and early 19th century it was used to hold prisoners to be transported to the West Indies and Australia.

During the 1850s, John Mitchel (after whom the prison was renamed in 1938) was incarcerated on Spike Island for his involvement in the rebellion of 1848.

The island remained in British hands until July 1938 when the last British troops departed and the Tricolour was raised by Éamon de Valera. It was transferred to the Department of Justice in 1985.

Yesterday’s official transfer follows 12 months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Department of Justice by Cork county manager Martin Riordan and council officials.

Announcing the decision to transfer the island to the council, Mr Martin said the move would unlock the tourism potential of the island to the benefit of the entire Munster region.

“The Department of Justice will afford full co-operation to the county council in having the transfer of ownership done as soon as possible to enable the council to progress its proposals and plans,” the Minister said.

Michael Martin, who was elected to Cobh Town Council as a Fianna Fáil representative in June, said an Alcatraz-style tourist attraction could attract thousands of visitors. “The decision could become one of the most important milestones in the development of the whole harbour area as an international iconic site attracting vast numbers of visitors to the region.

“Spike Island, with its 14 centuries of heritage, embodies and reflects all the major themes of Irish history. It is fitting that the island is to be preserved and presented to future generations of Irish and overseas visitors alike,” Mr Martin said.

Chairman of Cobh Tourism, Hendrick Verwey, said the move was an important step towards realising the potential to develop Spike Island into a major Irish tourist attraction. “The economic benefits to the entire region of having a world-class attraction in Cork Harbour should not be underestimated,” he said.

Cork Fine Gael TD Deirdre Clune criticised the delay in handing over Spike Island.

“The island is an historical gem in the middle of Cork harbour, which has huge potential. It is hard to understand why the future development of Spike Island was stalled for five years by the Fianna Fáil Government’s indecision,” Ms Clune said.