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Visiting Spike Island: The Isolated Irish Prison Known As ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’

Visiting Spike Island: The Isolated Irish Prison Known As ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’

A visit to Spike Island prison is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Cork.

And it’s easily one of the most popular things to do in Cobh (it’s up there with the very popular Titanic Experience).

If you’re not familiar with the story of Spike Island prison and if you’re visiting Cobh in 2024, you’re in for a treat-and-a-half.

In the guide below, you’ll find the history of Spike Island, info on the tour and where to visit nearby. Dive on in!

Some quick need-to-knows about Spike Island in Cork

spike island prison

Photo by dleeming69 (shutterstock)

So, a visit to Spike Island prison is fairly straightforward – you need to grab a ticket and hop onto a little ferry that leaves from Cobh.

However, there are a handful of things worth knowing before you plan your visit (booking in advance is needed!).

1. Location

A short ferry ride from the gorgeous little fishing village of Cobh in County Cork lies a 103-acre island that has been used as a place of worship, defense, confinement and punishment.

2. Getting there

To get to Spike Island in Cork you’ll need to get a ferry from Kennedy Pier in Cobh. The ferry takes around 15 minutes each way and leaves several times each day.

3. Prices

There are several different ticket types for the Spike Island tours (more on the various tours below). Price wise, you’re looking at (note: prices may change):

  • Adult: €26.95
  • Child (12 or under): €13.95
  • Family (2 Adults and 1 or 2 kids): €65.95
  • Senior Citizen (65+): €21.95
  • Student: €21.95

4. How long the Spike Island tours take

When you buy a ticket for one of the Spike Island tours, your journey over on the ferry is included. Your return ticket is for 3.5 hours later, so you should allow at least 4.5 hours for a visit.

About Spike Island prison

A short ferry ride from the gorgeous little fishing village of Cobh in County Cork lies a 103-acre island that has been used as a place of worship, defence, confinement and punishment.

Spike Island prison was originally the site of a monastic settlement, but for over 200 years it has been dominated by the star fort named ‘Fort Mitchel’.

In the last 1300 years, Spike Island has been host to a 6th-century Monastery, a 24-acre fortress, the largest convict depot in the world in Victorian times and centuries of island dwellings.

The island’s vast and varied history has included monks and monasteries, rioters and redcoats, captains and convicts and sinners and saints.

At one point, the island was used to house convicts prior to penal transportation, and this is where the nickname of ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’ came from.

Spike Island history: The story behind Ireland’s Alcatraz

spike island tour

Via Spike Island on Facebook

One of the reason the Spike Island tours are so popular is thanks to Spike Island’s history… it’s very dark history.

According to reports, when Spike Island prison was the world’s largest prison in the 1850s, the treatment of convicts was nothing short of horrific.

The ‘Punishment Block’

A ‘Punishment Block’ was the only purpose-built cell block in the Fort, and it was built in response to the murder of Warder William Reddy in 1856.

It was made up of 28 solitary confinement cells and housed the most dangerous prisoners on the island.

Each prisoner was heavily chained and clothed in black from head to toe, with a veil hiding all but their eyes. In the blocks early years, the cells were furnished with only a stool, and prisoners slept on the floor.

Mass graves

There were several suicide attempts and the Punishment Block was the main reason that Spike Island was described as “Hell on earth” by many.

Mass graves, which litter the island, are the result of foul conditions and overcrowding during the worst of Ireland’s famine years.

Spike Island tours

spike island cobh

Via Spike Island on Facebook

There are 2 different Spike Island tours that you can head off on: the Regular Tour and the After Dark Tour.

The Regular Tour should suit those of you that are on a day-trip to Cobh while the After Dark Tour is a different kettle of fish altogether.

The Regular Tour

The first of the 2 Spike Island tours is the Regular Tour. Included in your ticket is a guided tour from where the ferry lets you off to the Fortress.

The guided tour lasts around 45 minutes and during this time a skilled storyteller will take you on a journey through Spike Islands history.

When the tour ends, you can explore the forts and the prison on your own.

The After Dark Tour

Those that embark upon the after-dark tour on Spike Island will be told the stories of several murders that took place on the island.

One of these murders was of nationalist Patrick White, who was killed during a spiteful act of revenge.

Another story tells of the brutal murder of a prison warder in the 1800s. This horrific killing was carried out by some of the many dangerous inhabitants that were imprisoned on Spike.

The tour also takes visitors along the mysterious underground tunnels and cells that are inaccessible during the day time tours.

Things to do near Spike Island

One of the beauties of Spike Island prison is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Spike Island in Cork (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Food in Cobh

Cobh restaurants guide

Photo left: The Commodore Hotel. Photo right: Harbour Browns Steakhouse (Facebook)

When you arrive back from Spike, the chances are you’ll have worked up an appetite. Thankfully, there are some excellent restaurants in Cobh a short ramble aways from where you’re dropped off (there are also plenty of Cobh hotels if you want to spend the night).

2. Attractions within walking distance of the pier

cobh cathedral

Photo by Peter OToole (shutterstock)

There’s plenty of other things to do in Cobh when you finish up at Spike. One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Titanic Experience Cobh, but there’s also St. Coleman’s Catheral, the Deck of Cards and much more.

3. Fota Wildlife Park

fota wildlife park

Photos via Fota Wildlife Park on Facebook

The brilliant Fota Wildlife Park is a stone’s throw from Cobh town centre (you’ll need to drive) and it’s a great spot if you’re after more unique Cork attractions.

FAQs about visiting Spike Island in Cork

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Spike Island tours to what to expect from a visit.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How do you get to Spike Island?

You get to Spike Island via a ferry from Kennedy pier in the centre of Cobh. The ferry takes around 15 minutes each way and leaves several times each day.

Is Spike Island really worth visiting?

Yes! Spike Island in Cork is a fantastic little spot to escape to when visiting Cork. The history is dark and interesting and the reviews for the Spike Island tours are excellent.

Is there much to do nearby?

Yep! You’ve plenty to see in Cobh itself or you’re a short spin away from the likes of Fota and Cork City.

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Myles Fitzmaurice

Friday 17th of June 2022

Looking forward to visiting Spike Island in early July, what is the best time to visit.


Sunday 8th of March 2020

Interesting, this dark part in the history of Ireland. No one has ever mentioned this before. Sort of scared the day lights out of me. But would certainly like to visit it the next time around when I get to Ireland.

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