Once the largest prison in the world, Spike Island is now a popular attraction off the coast of County Cork exploring 1,300 years of Irish history and heritage
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At the 2019 International Travel & Tourism Awards held in London, the destination was recognized as the Best Attraction in the World.
The attraction surpassed other popular visitor sites around the world, including the Cliffs of Moher; the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour in London; Les Villages Nature Paris, the Dark Sky Alqueva in Portugal; and others.
The Prison's History
Spike Island was originally the site of a 7th-century monastic settlement.
The 18th-century fort, known as Fort Mitchel, dominates the island's landscape.
Its creation by the British was prompted by the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, and in particular, the entry of both France and Spain on the American side.
The British saw the island, situated in Cork Harbor, as a strategic location in defending it against the French.
The harbor was of vital importance as it served as an important source of supplies for the British operations in the West Indies and North America.
At one point, more than 400 vessels were assembled in the harbor, bringing supplies to the United States on a regular basis.
As a prison, it was used to house convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and other far-off lands and later rebels caught during the Irish War of Independence.
Known as “Ireland's Alcatraz,” it housed over 2,300 inmates during the 1850s.
Tours of Spike Island
On day and night tours of the prison, you'll get a chance to see the 1850s Punishment Block, view prison cells used as late as the 1980s, and learn about the horrific conditions that prisoners lived in, including young children.
You'll also hear about the mass graves that litter the island, part of Spike Island's troubled history.
“Spike Island After Dark” takes visitors into the prison's mysterious underground tunnels, which some say are haunted.
Ghost Hunters International and several other paranormal experts have visited the prison to find evidence of a ghostly presence.
To get to the attraction, you must take the ferry from Cobh.
The attraction is open 363 days a year.
Check the website to get the exact opening times. Online booking is essential.
There is also a genealogy service available at the attraction. Ask at the site for more details.