Spike Island, in Cork Harbour, will soon be opened to tourists. The Island which has been home to the French and British armies, revolutions, civil wars, penal convicts, IRA members and mutinous and wayward youths will now open its doors to the public.

County manager Martin Riorda wants to turn “Ireland’s Alcatraz”, which is steeped in history, into a major tourist attraction with ferries bringing tourists to the small island for walking tours.

This week the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councilor Derry Canty visited the island. “It was fantastic to see the place. I know a lot of work is to be done on the island, but it is a brilliant facility and the history is fantastic,” said Canty.

The 10- acre island needs a lot of work before it can be opened to the public. “This is at least a five-to-ten-year project and maybe even longer. It’s something we won’t be able to do tomorrow. This is a long-term objective because the council haven’t got that much money.”

Spike Island was purchased by the British government in 1779 having been significant during the French intervention following the Glorious Revolution. Under British ownership it became the site of Fort Westmoreland.

It was later in its history that it earned its nickname as “Ireland’s Alcatraz” as it became a prison and convict depot. Prisoners would be held awaiting penal transportation.

Throughout the Irish War of Independent the prison was used for IRA prisoners. Richard Barrett was held at the prison until he escaped during the truce of 1921.

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the island was handed back to the Free State in 1938 having been one of the Treaty Ports.

In its most recent incarnation, the fort and prison were used as a correctional facility for youths in 1985. It became well known as a place where the inmates mutinied and briefly controlled the prison. The facility closed its door in 2004.

in 2006, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell had plans to build a new prison on the site, but in 2009 the ownership was transferred to Cork County Council so that plans to open the Island as a tourist attraction could begin.

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