Take the train or drive 45 minutes (around 24kms) to Cobh and embark for a harbour tour to Spike Island , departing from the Pier in Cobh, right by the Titanic Experience (Cobh was the last port of call for the doomed liner and this centre is well worth a visit).
Spike Island has been, at different times, a Star Fort, commanding the harbour entrance to Cork, a British naval and military base, a prison during the Famine years and up until very recently and after a long period of closure, a prison once more.
The 24-acre Fort Mitchel is one of the largest Star Forts in the world, a state of the art coastal defence fort when it was completed in 1850 and still fearsome looking today. Such was the strategic importance of Spike Island, Winston Churchill once called it; “The sentinel tower of the approaches to Western Europe”. Today, it’s often called “Ireland’s Alcatraz” after the famous prison in San Francisco Bay.
In the 18th Century, Spike became a prison for transportees or convicts, often convicted of the smallest crime, due for transportation to Australia. Many died on Spike, their simple gravestones can be seen there today. The island has a dramatic, sometimes grim history, set in the epic beauty of Cork Harbour.