A glimpse at Spike Island's past 100 years on from the War of Independence prison

A glimpse at Spike Island's past 100 years on from the War of Independence prison

View of Cork Harbour showing Spike Island and Haulbowline, 1953.

Last week marked 100 years since the opening of the War of Independence prison on Spike Island.

In February 1921 Spike Island became an island prison for the third time in its history.

Between February 19 and November 18, 1921, over 1,200 republicans, or those suspected of being republicans, were held on Spike Island.

Members of the Cork brigades of the Irish Republican Army who were interned by the British at Spike Island prison during the War of Independence, pictured at a reception at Cork City Hall, 1956.
Members of the Cork brigades of the Irish Republican Army who were interned by the British at Spike Island prison during the War of Independence, pictured at a reception at Cork City Hall, 1956.

Many of the men, Spike Island's museum notes, "were simply lifted off the streets and imprisoned without fair trial, although the British intelligence was very good and mostly accurate". 

When the war ended and Ireland became a free state, part of the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty were that Britain would hold on to Spike Island as part of three ports that were viewed as essential for defence purposes.

A British garrison remained on Spike Island until 1938 when Éamon de Valera successfully negotiated the return of the ports.

Garrison sports day at Spike Island, 1932. 
Garrison sports day at Spike Island, 1932. 

The British base at Spike Island was the first to be handed over on July 11, 1938.

On that day the Tricolour was hoisted over the island for the first time, with de Valera present. 

Delving through The Echo archives reveals a plethora of pictures of when Spike Island became a prison for the fourth time, in 1985.

In March of that year, the Department of Defence handed over control of the fort to the Department of Justice.

FCA trainees at Spike Island, 1959.
FCA trainees at Spike Island, 1959.

Prisoners were held in the former Naval Service accommodation which was inadequate and in August of 1985 a serious riot broke out, which led to many buildings on the island being destroyed and an evacuation of the island's civilians.

Following the riot, the island's security was upgraded with the north-west casements converted into more effective four-man prison cells.

Rising costs eventually brought about the closure of the prison, with the last of the prisoners transferred off the island in February 2004. 

Riot at Spike Island prison, 1985.
Riot at Spike Island prison, 1985.

The island attraction opened to the public in June 2016 following a €6.5 million investment by Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland. 

Several areas were opened to the public, including the original 1840s famine era prison and the modern cells which were in use until 2004. 

Since then the council has reopened new areas each year.

The tourist attraction has gone from strength to strength since opening in 2016.

In 2017, Spike Island was voted the best tourist attraction in Europe and was runner-up in the worldwide category.

The army riot squad marching away from the main gate of Spike Prison, after failing to gain entrance to the prison, 1985. 
The army riot squad marching away from the main gate of Spike Prison, after failing to gain entrance to the prison, 1985. 

Two years later, the island won the best attraction at the International Travel and Tourism Awards ceremony facing off against stiff competition including the Cliffs of Moher, Harry Potter at Warner Bros Studios London and Disney’s Les Villages Nature in Paris. 

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