I was in all likelihood annoyed that I had come down with such a high fever on a weekend that I was off.

And it was high, I recall – 104 degrees, no less.

So I was deep under the covers in bed feeling sorry for myself when the phone rang.

It was the newsroom.

Could I come in? Big story. Riot at Spike Island Prison in Cork Harbour.

But I’m off today I protested. What’s more I’m only dying of the flu, temperature off the charts.

Pleeeeeeese came the agitated response from the news editor on duty that September Sunday.

The other reporters listed for duty that day were tied up with other stories, and, it being Sunday, there weren't many to begin with, the desk man said.

And he had tried several other off-duty reporters but had been able to make contact.

I was the only one, it seemed, who had picked up the phone.

This was September 1, 1985, so it was long before cellphones or the likes of caller ID.

Read More: Spike Island - Ireland's Alcatraz island prison (PHOTOS)

But how, I protested, could I cover a story in Cork any better from the newsroom in Dublin than, say, our stringer in Cork?

Or even you, Mr. Sunday News Editor?

Oh, that would be no problem, came the reply.

You’re going to fly down and cover the riot from the air.

Fever or no, I sat up in bed.

Say that again Mick!

As I remember it, the voice at the end of the line was that of Mick Sharkey, usually an Evening Press reporter, but that day sitting on the early desk for Monday’s Irish Press.

Mick was from Derry. He was a damn good reporter. His brother, Feargal, was a damn good singer, lead voice for the Derry band The Undertones.

Mick was singing my song at this point.

What better way to escape the confines of bed than to escape the bonds of terra firma altogether.

This was fever talk, of course. I was already flying anyway and now there was a struggle going on between the self-pitying patient and potential point man for a standout story.

I wasn’t sure about driving.

No problem said Mick. He would organize a taxi – or as he always called it, a Joe Baxi.

Trying not to overplay the martyr bit, I agreed.

Not much more than an hour later I was standing on the tarmac at Dublin airport – the quiet part across from the main terminal – staring at a very small plane.

It was a single engine four seater hired jointly by the Press and the Irish Times.

There would be the pilot, photographers from the Times and the Press, and myself.

Presumably, the Times had even fewer reporters on hand that day.

Anyway, off we flew with yours truly already high as a kite on flu stuff.

Thankfully, it was a tranquil day and the flight to Cork was straight and level.

From a height of just a few thousand feet the Irish countryside looked resplendent in its late summer colors.

The same could not be said for that part of the national territory covered by Spike Island Prison.

The prisoners had occupied part of the complex and many of them had climbed to the roof.

From their vantage point the arriving plane was most likely belonging to the authorities so the gestures directed skyward would have to be described carefully in my report for the next morning’s paper.

The photographers were seated on the right side of the cabin so when the plane banked that way they could both shoot their pictures at the same time.

The pilot then banked to the other said so I could take it all in.

Taking it all in meant being told where I could take myself.

I believe I waved back; my small part in a day of intimate gesturing.

And so we circled around the occupied roof until the photographers said they had enough and we turned north for Dublin.

The day’s unexpected work ended with my sitting in the newsroom hammering out my “sky witness” account on a manual typewriter – such was the state of technological affairs at that time.

And then it was back to bed, images of upraised fingers, fists and open mouths spouting angry words destined to dominate fevered dreams.

Did it happen at all? Was the flight just another of those dreams?

No, it was real because there in print the next day was the story.

The flight, the prisoners, and a few lines of how beautiful the Irish countryside was in the ninth month of the year as seen through flu-stricken eyes.

Spike Island would go the way of that other island keep, Alcatraz, and eventually close down in 2004.

Today, both are tourist attractions.

I have seen Alcatraz from a boat and Spike Island from a plane, but have yet to set foot on either.

Perhaps that’s just as well.


This is the second part of a report on Spike Island in Cork Harbour.