The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Spike Island is prison, as it is said to be “Ireland’s Alcatraz” but peel back the layers of history and you’ll be surprised lies beneath. We’ve been to Cobh many times as Cork is one of our favourite counties to visit in Ireland. Every time we go though I am drawn in by the Titanic Museum or the Titanic Bar & Grill or some of the other superb things to see & do in Cobh. This time however we left Kildare in Mammy Van with our sights firmly set on the mysterious Spike Island.
We’ve a grá for Irish History, Irish military history in particular & it’s rubbed off on our children so they were really excited to be finally getting to go out to the Island. My husband Colin writes articles for Military magazines all over Europe so I was thrilled when he told me we’d been invited to Spike so he could photograph the military base.
We arrived just in time for thesailing and were warmly greeted by Tom O’Neill & John Crotty who gave us a brief overview of the intriguing island. The view of Cobh from the harbour is beautiful, rows & rows of brightly painted houses & shops with the cathedral dominating the skyline. As soon as we got ashore on Spike we were warmly greeted by John Flynn, boy does he know his history. I was thrilled to discover we would be brought on a private tour of the island. John can tailor the tour to your tastes so if there’s a particular part of Cobh’s history you’d like to learn more about just ask he is a mine of information and historical facts. He’s so enthusiastic and passionate about the island it immediately sparked an interest in our children. They hung on every word, he was fantastic at throwing in a nugget of historical information that he knew the children would be interested in.
John took us through 1300 years of history on the island, from a monastic settlement in the 6th century through a defence installation on to a prison and now a heritage site and tourist attraction. We got to explore the abandoned village and learned about Little Nellie. We visited the 1980’s cells complete with an exhibition on the 1985 riot. My husband loved visiting the newly opened gun park as it is chock full of artillery pieces including a military vehicle on display. We stopped for tea and fresh cream cakes in the cafe on the island before John brought us to see one of the two 6 inch coastal defence guns that are still in situ.
I stayed up on the ramparts to enjoy the amazing views out over Cork harbour where Titanic was anchored back in 1912 while Colin took the children down to the gun gallery to explore. Lastly we visited the Governor’s office to learn all about how the British got to retain the use of Spike Island along with two treaty ports during the 1922 negotiations. On foot of another treaty the British vacated the Island on 12 July 1938, on that day the Union Jack was lowered after 150 years flying on Spike to be replaced with the Irish Tricolour.
As we were getting ready to leave they were setting up for the after dark tours so John brought us in to have a quick look at the set up, I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to do one of these tours as they look and sound brilliant especially as they are currently working on extending the tour down to the previously sealed dungeons!
We had a fantastic tour of the 103 acre island, my only issue is that we didn’t have enough time to explore more and hear more of John’s fascinating stories for those reasons we’ll be making yet another trip to Cork this summer.
Tickets cost €18 for adults, €10 for children and a family ticket for 2 adults & 2 children is €45. They advise booking online in advance to get the best prices and to guarantee your place during summer months. For further information visit their website. http://www.spikeislandcork.ie/
*** Disclaimer: As advised above we received complimentary tickets to Spike Island. As usual all thoughts are my own, I was not asked to write this review. As ever neither free services nor payment would ever sway my opinion. ***