Spike Island: The Isolated Irish Prison That’s Home To A Place Called ‘Ireland’s Hell’

spike island cobh
Photos by Irish Drone Photography (shutterstock)

Ifirst visited the gorgeous little fishing town of Cobh during the depths of winter in 2016.

It was late in the evening and after a day of exploring, myself and a friend were spending several hard-earned hours sat in a prime position at the bar in Kelly’s Pub, nursing pints and chatting away to the barman.

It was half-way into the 4th pint that he quizzed us on what we had done for the day in Cobh. We told him. He wasn’t impressed.

“Ah for f**k sake, you’re telling me you haven’t been across to Spike Island?”

Spike Island aerial photo
Via Spike Island on Facebook

I won’t tell you what he called me after I told him that I hadn’t even heard of Spike Island, as I’m sure my mam’s reading this and she’ll be giving out that I’m using ‘bold’ words.

Let’s just say he wasn’t impressed…

After he finished up serving a Spanish couple, he dropped back to our section of the bar and began to spin us a tale of the islands rich, troubled and bloody history.

There are certain places in Ireland that, despite being seeped in fantastic history, still fail to make the radar of many Irish travel itineraries.

One of those places is Cork’s Spike Island (even though it was rated Europe’s top visitor attraction in 2017!).

Welcome to Ireland’s Alcatraz


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 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.

The Murder of William Reddy and Ireland’s Hell

spike island tour
Via Spike Island on Facebook

The islands dark past is something that immediately tickled my fancy. According to reports, when Spike was the world’s largest prison in the 1850s, the treatment of convicts was nothing short of horrific.

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 a plenty

spike island cobh
Via Spike Island on Facebook

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.

More Murders and Spike Island After Dark

spike island cobh
Photos by Irish Drone Photography (shutterstock)

Those that embark upon the after-dark tour on Spike 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.

Have you visited Spike Island? What did you make of it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!


  1. 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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