Spike Island takes second place in category of World Travel Awards

Former prison and fort comes in ahead of the Great Wall of China and Mount Kilimanjaro

Ireland's answer to Alcatraz has scooped second place in the World Travel Awards coming in ahead of such world famous landmarks as the Great Wall of China and Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and being pipped only by the historic Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Spike Island in Cork Harbour took second place in the awards' World Leading Attraction category at a gala ceremony held in Vietnam with the second place finish coming just months after it was named Europe's Leading Tourist Attraction.

The historic prison and fort is being developed as a tourist attraction by Cork County Council and Cork County CEO, Tim Lucey said achieving such an impressive result will help Spike Island play a major part in developing tourism in Cork in the years ahead.

“It is a major boost for the county and country to have such recognition for this attraction. Importantly we grew the visitor’s numbers by over 70 per cent this year to 45,000, giving tens of thousands a safe and memorable visit while leaving a lasting impression of Cork,” he said.


Originally the site of a monastic settlement in the 7th century, Spike Island saw its first artillery fortification built in the 18th century by the British following the outbreak of the American War of Independence with a series of forts being built on the 104 acre island in both the late 18th century and early 19th century.

Used as a prison in the 19th century with thousands of prisoners transferred from Spike to Australia, the island remained under British control following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and it was only handed over to the Irish Free State in 1938 when the last British forces left.

A working prison up until 2004, responsibility for the island was handed over to Cork County Council in 2010 and following an investment of over €6 million by the Council and Fáilte Ireland, the island reopened in June 2016 as a tourist attraction.

Speaking following the success in Vietnam, Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Declan Hurley paid tribute to everyone who helped transform Spike Island into the successful tourist attraction which hopes to attract 100,000 visitors a year over the coming years.

Among the refurbishment works carried out on the island so far have been the installation of a pontoon for ease of access, the refurbishment and interpretation of the jail’s punishment block and shell store, the construction of a new military exhibition yard, and a new extension to the cafe.

John Crotty, general manager of Spike Island Development Company, which runs the new visitor attraction, said the refurbishment will take place in a number of phases but the overall plan involves the construction of both 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.

“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 wouldn’t include the prisoners we sent to America which again would be in the tens of thousands,” he said.

"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,” he added.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times