Spike Island, a small island opposite Cobh and just off Ringaskiddy, is famous here in Cork for being a prison first and foremost. Ironically, most people in Cork don't even know where it is, and have certainly not visited there as it has till only recently remained a prison, but all that may be about to change as the Island is being officially handed over to the people of Cork on July 11th this year. With the Cork County Council developing it as a tourist attraction and potential venue of major cultural, artistic, sociological, geographical and historical importance, I was offered a rare insight into the Island itself this morning as myself and a number of other people involved in Cork's music scene were invited down for a visit. To say the potential of the Island for Cork is immense would be a major understatement. A steering group is already busy developing ideas and I'd like to thank Ken and Val plus the Coastal and Maritime Resource Centre, all at the Naval base and the Council themselves for enabling myself and the others to make the short trip over by boat this morning. The Islands history is rich and I'll leave my friend Wiki explain a brief synopsis.
"It was significant in the French intervention following the Glorious Revolution, and was later purchased by the British government in 1779 – becoming the site of Fort Westmoreland. Later a prison and convict depot, it was used to house "convicts" prior to penal transportation. It remained in use as a garrison and prison through the Irish War of Independence, when IRA prisoners were held there. Richard Barrett was among those detained there, but escaped during the truce of 1921. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the island remained as one of the Treaty Ports, and was only handed back to the Free State in 1938. Upon its handover to the Irish state, the island's installations were renamed Fort Mitchel (after John Mitchel, nationalist activist and political journalist). The island remained the site of a prison and military base (for both the regular Irish Army and the FCÁ) for some time. Most recently it was used as a correctional facility for youth, when in 1985 it became mildly notorious when the inmates mutinied and briefly controlled the area; one of the accommodation blocks caught on fire and is known as the Burnt Block. This facility closed in 2004."
Thankfully Spike Island is going to be used a tourist attraction from now on and on July 11th it will be officially handed back to us, the people of Cork. Access remains the big problem and there is certainly work to be done, but in the coming months the potential of Spike Island is exciting and I know myself and all the other visitors today were inspired by what is a so far untapped destination only minutes from a port which has hundreds of Cruise liners and ships passing through it every year. I took a few random photos on my i Phone which i've posted below; I really should have brought my proper camera but you get the drift.
Obviously, I was fooling around in a few but what struck us all was that there is already an impressive infrastructure down there with the prison only being vacated relatively recently. We saw the prisoners quarters, some of the cells, the yards, recreation areas such as the gym, and even some of the older aspects of the military base, with an incredible canon being aimed out on Cork harbour at unwelcome visitors! I couldn't help but remember back to my days on pirate radio on Radio Friendly in the late 90's, when in-mates from Spike Island used ring in and contact me on my radio show every Sunday! It was poignant and eye-opening actually visiting the place where so many prisoners, convicts and soliders spent so many years; I'm looking forward to hearing lots more about the history of a Island that tells so many stories.
I'm delighted that the people of Cork will soon be able to experience Spike Island for themselves, though in the short term access is going to be a bit of a problem. The long term potential benefits for Cork are infinite though and you will be hearing lots more about Spike Island in the coming weeks and years!
PS-some links to a documentary on Cork prisons by Kieran Hurley and Catriona Chambers can be found here
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- I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays http://www.pavilioncork.com also you can catch me at http://djstevieg.podomatic.com