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Spike Island named Europe’s leading tourist attraction

Former prison site wins at World Travel Awards described as “Oscars” of the travel industry

With over 2,300 inmates in 1850, Spike Island was by far the largest prison in the United Kingdom as it was then constituted.

Spike Island in Cork has been named as Europe’s leading tourist attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards 2017.

The former prison site beat off competition from Buckingham Palace, The Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum and the Acropolis in the top ten sites chosen to compete for the European category.

Winners in the awards, described as the “Oscars” of the travel industry, were chosen by a public poll with the vote of those working in the tourism sector counting double.

The win caps an auspicious year and a half for Spike Island following its reopening in June 2016, with a nomination for a Chamber’s Ireland tourism award followed by a nomination at the 2017 Irish Tourism awards for best leisure tourism innovation.

A statement on the Fortress Spike Island Facebook page following its win at the awards in St Petersburg on Saturday night read, “We are very proud to make it an unprecedented three in a row for Ireland, following in the footsteps of the excellent Titanic Belfast and Guinness Storehouse.

“An enormous thank you to Cork County Council, Fáilte Ireland, those in Cobh with the vision to fight for Spike, our visitors, and most importantly to our incredible staff and tour guides, whose passion and hard work have made this a deserved award. This is owned by each and everyone of you.”


Mayor of County Cork Declan Hurley who attended the event in Russia said the award “serves to cement the island’s position as the jewel in the crown of Cork and Ireland’s tourism”.

Spike Island’s win makes it three in a row for Ireland at the World Travel Awards, following the success of Titanic Belfast’s win last year and Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse in 2015.

Other Irish winners at this year’s awards include the Sandymount Hotel in Dublin which won Europe’s leading green hotel while the Convention Centre, also in the capital, was named Europe’s leading meetings and conference centre.

Portugal, which won a number of awards, was voted Europe’s leading destination while the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira was hailed Europe’s leading island destination.

Geneva, Switzerland’s second-largest city claimed the title of Europe’s leading city break destination while St Petersburg - famed for its winding network of canals and pretty pastel palaces - picked up the award for Europe’s leading city destination.

British troops evacuating Spike Island in 1938 for its handover to the State. Photograph: National Library of Ireland/Irish Independent/NPA collection

Spike Island, the former monastery, fortress and prison was turned into a visitor attraction in 2016, in a project co-funded by Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland.

Reached by ferry from Cobh, visitors to the island are taken on a guided tour through the 1,300-year history of the island. It was home to a 6th century monastery before a 3,000-capacity star shaped fortress was built in the early 1800s, to protect the southern approaches to Western Europe.

That same fortress became the largest prison in Britain or Ireland in the 1850s, according to local historians, when its numbers swelled during the famine years to over two thousand.

The prison closed in 1883 and the British army resided there for the next 55 years before a handover to the State in 1938. The Irish army and navy used the island and fortress over the next forty seven years before the island became a prison once again. The prison closed in 2004.

The competition’s organisers praised Spike Island for its “rich history that is authentically retold using guides and interpreted spaces, the variety of day and night tours and varying ways to enjoy the attraction, and the strength of its visitor feedback”.