Ireland’s Alcatraz: Spike Island in Cork

The former fort and notorious prison in Cork harbour, once known as ‘Hell on Earth’, has become an award-winning attraction

We disembarked at the long pier and walked to the star-shaped fort along a steep, twisting path. The smooth slopes rising up to the formidable ramparts and entrance gate, we are told by our guide, form a glacis, a feat of military engineering that leaves attackers exposed and makes defence far easier.

On this cold, clear day, with a low afternoon sun casting soft shadows, it was easy to overlook the enormity of this construction in Cork harbour – and the dark reality of Spike Island fort and prison itself. Until we learned that the vast banks surrounding the 24-acre fort were actually built in the 1850s by the inmates themselves.

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