Spike Island

Spike Island
Cork, Ireland.

For more than a thousand years, Spike Island has been a place of shelter, protection & reflection, but also punishment, incarceration and death. Saints and sinners alike have called this 103 acre expanse their home, although thousands have done so against their will. Yet, those who lived on the island in more recent times, often had happier experiences. With so many different experiences on one island, it’s really not surprising that there are ghosts who call this island home. But let’s just add some context to this pot of soup before we get to the supernatural stuff.

Having cured the High King of Ireland of an ailment, Saint Mochuda was granted this land and founded a monastery here in 635 AD. The island provided everything the monks needed, with good farmland from which they could sustain themselves, to the peace and quiet they required for their devotions. Records suggest that although the island may not have been in continuous use due to conflicts and societal change, it was in use by religious orders until the 16th century.

In the mid-seventeenth century, the island was utilised for a very different purpose and the first of its much darker layers was applied. Cromwell’s army began to banish prisoners of war and their accomplices to overseas territories, and the location of Spike Island just off the mainland, made it a useful resource for the detention of thousands of Irish citizens pending onward transfer. Here they were kept with little shelter and next to no food or water.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the island came into military use, serving as a fortress to defend Great Britain against “backdoor” attacks from overseas adversaries. Over subsequent decades, the fortification grew and grew. It was constructed to accommodate up to 3,000 military personnel, but in 1845, the Great Famine began to take hold in Ireland. While many left the country to seek refuge and begin a new life overseas, those left behind often resorted to crime, stealing basic supplies just to survive. Times were tough and there was little mercy for these poor unfortunates. The authorities made efforts to banish the unwanted souls overseas, but increasingly they were not wanted elsewhere. So in 1847, Spike Island began to accept them, with 2,300 men and boys eventually being detained on the island at any one time. Prisoners would have been enlisted to conduct hard manual labor around the developing fortress. Overcrowding, sickness, and violence were the norm, with two mass graves from this time period serving as a testament to how brutal conditions were.

During the Irish War of Independence, the island was once more used for the purpose of prisoner detention alongside the miliary base, with some 1,400 men detained. The island continued in its dual functionality, even after transfer of control to the Irish state in 1938. In 1985, the military base closed, and the island became a youth correctional facility. 120 inmates were on the island at that time, but conditions were poor, and a serious disturbance erupted in August that year. Several amendments were made to the facilities at the prison following the riot, with heightened security, additional cells, solitary confinement & educational units added.

The prison finally closed in 2004 and today, Spike Island is an award-winning tourist attraction. Visitors can now see first-hand, the conditions that were described as “hell” by former inmates and explore the fortress itself. But some visitors to the island have witnessed more than they would have expected during their visit.
Even when in use as a miliary garrison, the gruesome spectre of a man with black holes for eyes was spotted roaming the island. Trained soldiers even reported shooting at the mysterious figure, obviously to no avail. Several service personnel took their own lives while stationed here, and some believe that this figure may be of one of those lost souls. Sightings of the terrifying vision are still occasionally reported.

During the 1980s, guards would be summoned by terrified prisoners who spoke of a ‘black entity’ entering their cells at night. In 2016, a visitor captured the likeness of a dark figure in the old prison, appearing just as the prisoners had described over twenty years before. Prisoners refused to stay in cell 9, with one even claiming to have been thrown from their bed in there. Another visitor appears to have captured a figure in one the hallways. A white mist has also been spotted, and this is attributed to former prisoner, John Mitchel. Other visitors exploring the prison have reported hearing footsteps, while others claim to have been touched by unseen hands. A member of staff recalled being pushed over by unseen force while cleaning. She thought that it might be one her colleagues playing a prank, but when she turned to confront them, she was completely alone.

Other visitors have encountered a man in uniform, standing near a fireplace and a lady in white has been seen roaming the grounds. The ghostly torso of a British soldier was also reportedly spotted by one witness, floating along the pier.

Visitors to the island will also hear the story “Little Nellie of Holy God” who had spent part of her short life living on Spike Island where her father was stationed.
Ellen (known as Nellie) was born in 1903, and prior to her death at the age of just four, appeared to possess an unworldly understanding and empathy towards Catholic teachings. When her body was exhumed a year after her death, there were no signs of decay.

Ghost Advisor

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Further Information

Venue Name
Museum  | Jail / Gaol  | Defence
Kennedy Pier, Cork, P24 E446, Ireland

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Admission Policies
Opening Times Apply
Admission Fee Applies
Facilities & Services
Café / Coffee Shop / Restaurant
Guided Tours Available
Self Guided Tour
Toilets (opening hours may apply)


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