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Ireland Vacation Castles: Where to Stay and What to Tour
It’s estimated that there are over 30,000 castles in Ireland. Some are parts of ruins, some are homes, some are offices — and some castles in Ireland are available for people from all over the world to visit and stay in during their vacations.
Most of these castles were built before the United States were even colonies. These castles are isolated from cities, opening up the possibility for rest and relaxation. Many of the castles were built on the sides of mountains or in the middle of lakes. This makes your Irish vacation safer from invasions and the landscapes are pretty.
Some of these castles are excellent wedding venues, some are more suited for spa days and relaxation. Some of these Irish vacation castles are closer to different parts of the ocean, others have proximity to the city for day trips — there are a million reasons why staying at one of these vacation castles in Ireland are just so wonderful.
No matter how far into your COVID-19 vaccination process you are, you’ve probably been looking up flights and destinations since the second month of lockdown. While travel to Ireland is currently discouraged, daydreaming is an excellent coping mechanism for combating day-to-day stress and pandemic fatigue . The cost of these trips will vary as things continue to open up and develop, but prior to the pandemic, costs could range from two hundred pounds and up per night or a couple thousand pounds to secure the space for an event like a destination wedding.
With so many Ireland vacation castles to choose from, we compiled a list of some of the standout selections. Since 2020 has put us through enough, we chose not to use any of the castles known to be haunted.
Why Make Ireland Vacation Castles Your Destination?
What makes a castle in Ireland seem like such an amazing vacation home is that it’s both introvert and extrovert friendly. Splitting Ireland vacation castles among a large group of people could make the experience a more affordable one. Castles can go for 34,000 feet or larger, so there is plenty of room to distance oneself if need be. If 2020 has taught us anything, distance can save lives, but the castle’s potential to satisfy the extroverts of all sorts.
Many of the Ireland vacation castles have driver services. This makes the experience feel more authentic in terms of how someone that lives in a castle is treated. It also means you could get more of a down- “irl” feeling before retreating back to your literal fortress — an introvert’s dream come true and a more lowkey way to vacation. Plenty of us will be ready too fatigued for cruises, nightclubs, and other large gatherings.
After a year of isolation, rooms with large square footage surrounded by green hills and, maybe just a smidgeon of Irish cream, vacationing in an Irish castle sounds like just the right vibe. Throw in the opportunity to receive Irish breakfasts in the morning and not needing to clean the dishes and you may not want to return home.
The Top Irish Vacation Castle Hotels
The opportunity to stay in a castle in Ireland could be the perfect excuse to ring up the Ireland trip planner at your local travel agency. Neither the Irish economy nor your local travel agent will be upset about the business so long as you stay current with CDC guidelines.
-* Kilkea Castle was built in the 12th century. In the late 1100s, Hugh de Lucy had the castle constructed for a knight named Walter de Riddlesford. You can rent the entire castle, which sleeps fifty-five, or you can rent one room, perfect for two.. There is a restaurant on the estate in addition to the private dining room. The Ireland vacation castle also has archery, golf, and the opportunity to get fishing, horseback riding, and for falconry. It’s only an hour from Dublin, Ireland’s capital, so its location is more than ideal for maximum adventuring.
* Ballynahinch Castle is a four star resort near Ireland’s western shore. The castle’s name translates to “house on a lake” and was built on an island in a lake, giving “lakefront property” more opulence than one might expect from the term.Just five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, there is a large fishery attached to the property. They provide a full-on Irish bed and breakfast experience, a far tone from the battles once fought near the castle in the 1300s.
* Ashcroft Castle is one of the more popular of these types of hotels. With eighty-three rooms and a five-star experience, it’s easy to see why. The cheapest rooms start at €415 per night, so this is definitely more of a splurge location. In addition to the falconry and shooting that one might expect at an Ireland vacation castle, but there is also a movie theater and billiard room in the castle. It’s close to Galway airport and has a rich decor inside and out.
Ashford Castle Hotel and Country Estate was once home to the Guinness family. If that presence is not enough for you, the Ashford Castle’s self labeling of a “fairytale setting,” “gourmet breaks,” and “wellness escapes” could entice your inner skeptic. You know how castles in the UK are known for having dungeons? This castle turned their former dungeon into a basement restaurant. I wonder if they serve Guinness on tap?
Dream On: 4 More Ireland Vacation Castles
Do you have a favorite castle yet? Is your mind filled with pleasant images of falconry and horseback riding? While every Ireland vacation castle will have physical activities and relaxation, but these next castles will focus on the latter. You might want to put some cucumbers over your eyes after learning about these castles.
Dromoland Castle Hotel and Spa incorporates wellness and relaxation into their packages and hosts seasonal events for the whole family. With different programming for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and summer, you might want to go back to this castle multiple times to get the full experience. Dromoland is not far from Limerick, one of the most popular vacation destinations in Ireland. You can even book longer stays for an apartment experience.
Dunboyne Castle Hotel is a side-effect of Irish history. The original castle was destroyed during the Cromwellian Invasion of Ireland in the 1600s because the Butler family refused to convert to Protestantism. Another location near Dublin, the family packages and spa packages are worth looking into if you’re looking to live like aristocracy at a bourgeoisie rate.
Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort , even the name sounds relaxing. Rooms start at low as €169 per night, but for less than an extra hundred pounds you can add little enhancements like afternoon tea or an evening meal to your stay. The customization options are fabulous and more hotels should follow suit. One side of the castle is covered in ivy, giving it an added Irish texture. Ten minutes from Waterford City, the castle sits at the southeastern shore of the country near St. George’s Channel. Depending on where your room is, you might just see Wales across the water from your window.
Ballygally Castle is up in the northeast corner of Ireland near the shore. It’s closer to Scotland as opposed to Wales. We may have lied to you earlier about not selecting any haunted castles, but with rooms starting as low as €70 for a night, we couldn’t say no. There is a small room in the hotel known as “The Ghost Room,” but the room is no longer in use. Reputed reports of ghost activity in the nights don’t scare you off, this Northern Ireland castle is the perfect hotel for you.
As you traverse the Emerald Isle in your mind, you may be looking for cheap flights or may be ready to daydream your way to another location. You may be ready to go back to work or get on with the next step of your day. Don’t daydream too hard too hard, but do dare to dream. It’s never been safer to live like Irish royalty: the churches are not in conflict, the British are doing their own thing, and this plague? It’s almost over.
MORE FROM ASK.COM
Visit Spike Island
A remote monastery in the Celtic Sea. A fortress, built to defend an empire. An island prison that held a nation. Centuries of Irish social life. Discover 1,300 years of Irish History.
Explore Ireland's historic island
Discover 1300 years of Irish social, military, penal and rebellion history...
Island monastery, fortress, prison and home
Discover Ireland's historic island, Spike Island Cork
An Island Prison
Spike Island was used as an island prison on four occasions over 400 years, the first in the 1600’s holding Cromwellian prisoners.
The second in the 1840’s became the largest prison in the world, and there has never been a larger prison in Britain or Ireland before or since.
The third opened in 1921 and it held over 1200 Irish Republican prisoners during the Irish War of Independence.
While the final prison opened in 1985, and amazingly only closed in 2004! See hundreds of years of penal development, only at Spike Island Cork.
An Island Fortress
The fort is so large, the whole of alcatraz island could fit inside.
The first fortification was built on Spike Island in 1779 while the American War of Independence raged and the Kingdom of Great Britain was on high alert. Over the centuries many superpowers have attempted to invade southern Ireland, attracted by the strategically vital Cork harbour. The current Spike Island fortress, built in 1804, is one of the largest military structures in the world.
Explore Spike Island
Discover 104 acres of nature, wildlife, history and beauty...
Enjoy the 12 minute ferry ride, join a guided tour, self explore over a dozen museums and walk our nature pathways...
Embark on a mesmerising adventure through history with our new Twilight Tours at Spike Island this summer.
Walk and abandoned prison, sit in a solitary cell. Explore a place of punishment, once known as Ireland's hell...
Enjoy a mix of history and island activities with our all inclusive school tours...
An Island home
Social spike island.
Spike Island has been home to the families of soldiers and prison officers for centuries, after the first fortification was built in 1779. The British Army stationed soldiers on the island until 1938, then the Irish Defence Forces and their families called the island home until 1985.
Read and hear their touching stories, about an island life away from the noise and cares of the mainland.
Bernard & Helena McCarthy
Went over to Spike Island during the summer. What a great day out, very interesting place, great walks and a big field if you wanted too chill out or if the kids want to play. It has a shop so you can get food and drinks. You could make a whole day out of it, there was more added to it during the year so cannot wait to go over again this summer, would highly recommend it.
We had the pleasure & experience of visiting Spike Island on a day trip the journey from Cobh harbour was by ferry, the crew were great giving information & answering questions. Our tour guide was brilliant, an ex navy man himself, spent time with all. He really got across the history of Spike and we will definitely go again.
Great Tour of the Island. My Family and I visited Spike Island (February) and we all found it very interesting. The trip on the ferry accross was great and it was a dry day. We found it very interesting and for history lovers it is a great place to go. The views of Cobh from the Island are magnificent.
I went to Spike Island recently and found it totally amazing with the history and the heritage of the island. It's a great place to visit and the tour is great. If in Cork then it should be high on your list of places to go. Highly recommended.
Very impressive! It was our second time here and well worth the trip. Lots of interesting information presented with a touch of Irish humour. We'd strongly advise everyone to go there, it's a great day out! You can take the island in at your own pace or join a guided tour. It's a brilliant opportunity to see all of Cork harbour.
Kenny & Lisa
Both for history and nature enthusiasts. Be sure to catch the free guided tour that is included in your ticket. Our guide was very skilled and made the history come alive through stories he told.Also take the time to explore the island and enjoy the view of Cobh from a different perspective. Take a walk around and take in the beauty of the nature and the island as a whole!
Amazing, a hidden gem! Must-see. Myself and my husband visited Spike Island today and although we both live in Cork we had never been. It was absolutely brilliant and would highly recommend. Our guide was excellent, so knowledgeable and funny! Time flies so we will definitely be back and will also do the After Dark tour too. I would never get sick of visiting and feel it is the kind of place you could visit over and over and still see and learn new things.
Spike Island is well worth a visit. The scenery is beautiful, even for a walk, it is worthwhile to go and see. The tour guide was excellent too and we enjoyed it all. You could easily spend a few hours here, a great way to spend a day and very affordable too. It is advisable to book the ferry beforehand, it is a popular spot.
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Spike Island Tours
A trip to Spike Island Cork is a trip through 1300 years of Irish history —as well as a chance to experience beautiful nature and wildlife in a wild Irish setting. Departing from the historic and scenic seaside town of Cobh, your ticket includes:
- The 12-minute return ferry journey across Cork harbour, one of the world’s largest natural harbours.
- A guided tour on arrival with one of our storytellers.
- Self-guided time after your tour to enjoy full access to our fortress and prison—home to over a dozen museums, exhibitions and authentic centuries-old buildings, which showcase our rich past as a monastery, fortress, prison, and island home. See centuries-old prison cells, military emplacement and modern museum spaces, with lots for all ages to enjoy.
- Full access to our nature and walking trails—discover the 1.4 km glacis walk with stunning harbour views, or the 2.4 km ring of Spike, which is fully signposted and interpreted as it passes abandoned places like a village or convict cemetery.
- A free map to explore our island’s waking trails and many interesting areas inside the fort.
- A free map for children, to keep little ones busy as they explore the island.
- Adult Adult €24.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
- Child (12 or under) Child (12 or under) €11.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
- Student 18 years + Student 18 years + €19.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
- Senior Citizen (65 & over) Senior Citizen (65 & over) €19.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
- Child (aged 2 & under) Child (aged 2 & under) €3.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
- Family (2 Adults, 1-2 Kids 12 or under) Family (2 Adults, 1-2 Kids 12 or under) €59.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 19 max
- 2nd level Student (13 to 17 yrs) accompanied by an adult 18+ 2nd level Student (13 to 17 yrs) accompanied by an adult 18+ €15.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 30 max
- Group Admission Group Admission €20.00 + €0.95 booking fee 0 78 max
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Top ways to experience nearby attractions
SPIKE ISLAND: All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos)
- Sun - Sat 11:00 - 14:30
- (1.29 mi) Bella Vista Hotel & Self Catering Suites
- (1.73 mi) Knockeven House
- (1.15 mi) WatersEdge Hotel
- (1.16 mi) Ard Na Laoi B&B
- (1.16 mi) Commodore Hotel
- (1.14 mi) The Quays Bar and Restaurant
- (1.15 mi) Titanic Bar and Grill
- (1.19 mi) Cuppacity Coffee
- (1.16 mi) Harbour Browns Steakhouse.
- (1.15 mi) Jacobs Ladder Restaurant
Top ways to experience nearby attractions
Spike Island - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos)
- Sun - Sat 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM
- (1.29 mi) Bella Vista Hotel & Self Catering Suites
- (1.73 mi) Knockeven House
- (1.15 mi) WatersEdge Hotel
- (1.16 mi) Ard Na Laoi B&B
- (1.16 mi) Commodore Hotel
- (1.14 mi) The Quays Bar and Restaurant
- (1.15 mi) Titanic Bar and Grill
- (1.19 mi) Cuppacity Coffee
- (1.16 mi) Harbour Browns Steakhouse.
- (1.15 mi) Jacobs Ladder Restaurant
Spike Island Information
Show more photos
- Coastal escapes
- History and heritage
Used as an Island prison, fortress, monastery and home, today visitors can meet captains and convicts and sinners and saints as you uncover 1300 years of Irish history. It has prison cells, deep tunnels, island walks and multiple museums, explore the 'Irish Alcatraz' via a guided tour or using the free map and app. Access to the island is by ferry from Kennedy Pier in Cobh, go to www.spikeislandcork.ie for sailings and opening times.
The islands recorded history goes back to the 7th century when St Mochuda founded a monastery on this magical island. Monks walked the island trails for 300 years until the Vikings sailed into Cork harbour, and for many centuries the island was used by smugglers, pirates and as an island home.
In 1779 work began on a fortress and this would become the impressive 24 acre Fort Mitchel which crowns the island today. Able to garrison 3000 men and with guns that could fire a shell 12 miles, the fort was so important that Winston Churchill called Spike Island 'the sentinel tower of the defences of Western Europe'.
The fortress that was built to defend an empire became the largest prison in the world in the 1850's, as the famine raged in Ireland and people resorted to stealing food to survive. The prison opened in 1847 and soon held over 2300 inmates, and there has never been a larger prison in Ireland or Britain before or since. Conditions at 'Ireland's Alcatraz' were terrible and 1300 poor souls would never leave the island, buried now in mass graves with no headstone. Today visitors can explore the dark cells of the punishment block, Ireland's most notorious prison. You can walk the children's prison which held boys as young as 11, and sit in solitary cells.
The prison closed in 1883 and the fort was used by first the British and then the Irish military, as island social life continued for 2 centuries. A prison would return in 1985 and a riot that year forced the islanders to evacuate, ending centuries of island social life. The prison would continue until 2004 and today you can walk the modern cells. Hear stories of daring escapes, Irish rebels, Ireland's most notorious criminal and a dark past.
Today the island has several museums and exhibitions on the social, military, penal and monastic past, and there are stunning views as you complete the 'Ring of Spike', a 5km walking trail with interpreted signage. You can also visit the café and gift shop for a hard earned rest. With a free map and app on arrival and included guided tour with Ireland's best storytellers, it's your day, your way, at Fortress Spike Island.
Call +353 21 2373455 for tour bookings. Advance booking recommended.
Spike Island provides you the perfect vantage point to see Fort Camden and Roches Point, the last docking point of the Titanic.
Dare to take the After Dark Tour with gruesome tales and tunnel exploration, a truly unique experience.
We recommend planning to spend 3.5 to 4 hours here.
Discover Camden Fort Meagher in County Cork, one of the finest global examples of a classical coastal artillery fort. Explore its underground tunnels, watch one of the historical re-enactments and check out the exhibition rooms.
Located at the Marina Market within walking distance of Cork City centre, Cork Bike Hire offers hybrid and electric bicycle hire and tours. Explore Cork Harbour Greenway or, if feeling more adventurous, visit Cork’s hotspots of Blarney Castle or Cobh.
Set off on a stunning coastal walk through rural Cork on an unforgettable stroll on the Ballycotton Cliff Walk. Take in unparalleled views of the roaring Atlantic Ocean and watch as waves crash into the base of the Ballycotton Cliffs.
Explore the Kinsale coastline by bike with Wild Atlantic Sports. Go on a guided tour along the Wild Atlantic Way or rent a high quality bike or an e-bike and follow your own itinerary.
Book in with Wild Atlantic Sports and Cycling Tours in Kinsale. Hire top-class bikes and e-bikes and take guided cycle tours along the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Explore the sea on a diving or snorkelling trip with Oceanaddicts in Kinsale, County Cork or see the beauty of the landscape on a coastal cruise and spot some of the abundant marine life playing in the water.
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Discover the historic Spike Island
Ireland's answer to Alcatraz – this unique island in Cobh, County Cork, has been a monastery, fortress and prison down through the centuries
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The wind is in your hair, the sea breeze is on your face, and you're gliding from pretty Cobh across the glistening waters of Cork harbour to your destination: the legendary Spike Island!
Today, it may be a top attraction to visit in County Cork, but this one-off island has taken on many roles over the years. Its past is often dark but always intriguing. History buffs, nature lovers, and anyone who loves a good yarn, well told, are in for a treat.
So let's set sail, there are over 1,000 years of Irish history to explore...
Spike Island, Cobh, County Cork
An island steeped in history
The history of Spike Island began over 1,300 years ago, when St Mochuda founded an early Christian monastery at the site. Despite the island being ravaged by Vikings in the 9th century, there are reports of a monastic settlement lasting here until the 16th century. Today, visitors can follow in the footsteps of the monks by embarking on their daily pilgrimage on the outer island walking trail.
Spike Island first became an island prison during the mid 1600s, when thousands of prisoners were kept here during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. This identity stuck, and the island would again become a prison during the Great Famine in 1847. In fact, at this time it was the largest known prison in the world! One can explore the chilling Punishment Block and "dark cells" from this troubled time.
Even in modern times, Spike Island remained a prison, only closing its prison gates for the last time in 2004. Tours take you around modern prison cells , as well as the dubiously named "Shivs and Shanks" exhibition!
The iconic star-shaped Fort Mitchel that still stands strong to this day was built by the British army in the early 1800s. It's so big, you could fit the whole of Alcatraz Island inside it! Visitors can get up close and personal with the towering entrance walls, huge parade ground, as well as many buildings and tunnels. There's even a military Gun Park featuring tanks, cannons and artillery guns. A must for any military enthusiasts.
Beyond the island
As you can see, Spike Island makes for a great day trip in County Cork. But what else can you enjoy in the area?
In colourful Cobh, don't miss the Titanic Experience Cobh , which tells the story of the Titanic's last port of call before its ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
St Colman's Cathedral dominates the skyline of this harbour town, and it's well worth a visit. It's the tallest church in Ireland with a grand interior that will take your breath away.
Further afield in County Cork, the world-famous Blarney Castle (home to the Blarney Stone) is an unmissable highlight. As is the 18th century English Market in Cork city , a cornucopia of Irish culinary delights. Or you could venture into the natural beauty and wild charms of West Cork .
Need to know: Spike Island
Spike Island is reached by ferry from Kennedy pier in Cobh. The scenic journey across Cork harbour only takes 10-15 minutes.
Spike Island is open year round to visitors but the exact schedule varies by season. Typically, it's open daily during the summer and the rest of the year it's open weekends and school holidays.
Ticket prices vary but there are options available for adults, children, families, senior citizens, teenagers, babies and groups.
There are numerous tours you can choose from, including regular, after dark, behind the scenes, and eco-friendly options! You can also opt for a guided or a self-guided experience.
There are two gift shops on site, both selling unique Spike Island souvenirs. And there's also a cosy café that dishes out hot food and tasty treats!
County Cork highlights
Don't miss these things to see and do
Titanic Experience Cobh
Blarney Castle and Gardens
Fota Wildlife Park
Cobh Golf Club
Cork Fab Food Trail
Ballymaloe Cookery School
Franciscan Well Brewery and Brew Pub
Clayton Hotel Cork City
Hayfield Manor Hotel
The story of the Titanic has captured the hearts and minds of millions. From descendants of crew and passengers, to the just plain fascinated, the story has been re-told over and over from Belfast to Hollywood.
Visit medieval Blarney Castle in County Cork, one of Ireland’s most impressive castles. Kiss the famous Blarney Stone to get the gift of the gab, wander around unique rock formations and see the rare plants in the enchanting gardens.
Cobh Museum is housed in the former Presbyterian Church overlooking Cork harbour. It displays exhibits on almost two centuries of life on Cork's Great Island.
The Clayton Hotel Cork City, is a four-star City Centre Hotel, superbly located overlooking the River Lee and City Hall. The award winning hotel has 201 bedrooms and is just a 5 minute stroll from shopping and entertainment.
- Ring of Cork Heritage Trail
- Bird Trails
SPIKE ISLAND GUIDED TOURS
LOOKING FOR SOME HISTORY, NATURE, ADVENTURE OR FAMILY FUN THIS MAY BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND? TAKE THE FERRY JOURNEY ACROSS CORK HARBOUR TO THE HERITAGE ISLAND THAT HAS 1300 YEARS OF IRISH HISTORY AND MYSTERY!
** ADVANCE BOOKING HIGHLY RECOMMENDED AS BOATS OFTEN BOOK OUT **
The story of Spike Island off the coast of Cobh has been the story of Ireland. From the 6th century monastery built by St Mochuda, to the 18th century British Fortress built to defend an empire. From the worlds largest prison during the famine years of the 1850’s, to the centuries of island homes that have housed both military and civilian personnel. This amazing and beautiful 104 acre island has echoed the demands and wishes of those in power on the mainland, and today the island is in a unique position to retell the story of over 1300 years of Irish penal, military, social and religious history.
Spike Island is open to visitors in April for weekends and on set days during the Easter holidays, see www.spikeislandcork.ie for full opening times. Visitors can enjoy a scenic ferry ride across Cork Harbour before enjoying a guided tour of our island, Fortress and Prison. You then have time to self explore our museums, exhibtions, prison, fortress and wider island and enjoy our fullt stocked cafe before departing for Cobh. Boat spaces are limited so advance booking is highly recommened . Allow 3 1/2 hours for the full Spike Island experience and select your departure time carefully as this cannot be changed.
Attractions include the 1850’s Punishment block, which was described as ‘hell on earth’ by the penal classes in Britain and Ireland during the famine years. Explore dark cells and prioner art galleries. There is also the contrast with our modern prison cells , built in the 1980’s to house the growing number of joyriders being incarcerated.
On the military front we have a military museum with Army, Navy and social exhibtions. There is Irelands largest military gun park with its artillery, military vehicles and impressive weaponary, always a hit with children. And for the adventrous you can walk the long tunnels deep into our forts walls to find the 6″ harbour defense guns , whose powerful barrels could fire a shell over 12 miles out to sea!
We also represent the social history of our island and there are social history rooms alonside a room dedicated to Cork Harbour which contains a graphic representation of the harbour which kids can use to fire the forts cannons! And in our former childrens prison we have a room dedicated to Nationalist John Mitchel and an audio visual installations that relays over 150 years of prison life.
Visitors can also enjoy access to our Aud exhibtion , the 1916 German gun running ship which tried to send arms to aid the Easter rising. And of course we have over 104 acres of beautiful Island wildlife and scenery for those who love the outdoors. In short, we recommend bringing your walking shoes, for not only is there the attractions inside the fort, but our outer island offers unrivalled views of Cobh and Cork harbour!
We look forward to welcoming you to Fortress Spike! See www.spikeislandcork.ie for more Spike history. Advance booking highly recommended as boats typically sell out in advance.
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Visiting Spike Island: The Isolated Irish Prison Known As ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’
By Author Keith O'Hara
Posted on Last updated: June 3, 2023
A visit to Spike Island prison is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Cork .
And it’s easily one of the most popular things to do in Cobh (it’s up there with the very popular Titanic Experience).
If you’re not familiar with the story of Spike Island prison and if you’re visiting Cobh in 2023, you’re in for a treat-and-a-half.
In the guide below, you’ll find the history of Spike Island, info on the tour and where to visit nearby. Dive on in!
Table of Contents
Some quick need-to-knows about Spike Island in Cork
Photo by dleeming69 (shutterstock)
So, a visit to Spike Island prison is fairly straightforward – you need to grab a ticket and hop onto a little ferry that leaves from Cobh .
However, there are a handful of things worth knowing before you plan your visit (booking in advance is needed!).
A short ferry ride from the gorgeous little fishing village of Cobh in County Cork lies a 103-acre island that has been used as a place of worship, defense, confinement and punishment.
2. Getting there
To get to Spike Island in Cork you’ll need to get a ferry from Kennedy Pier in Cobh. The ferry takes around 15 minutes each way and leaves several times each day.
There are several different ticket types for the Spike Island tours (more on the various tours below). Price wise, you’re looking at (note: prices may change):
- Adult: €22
- Child (12 or under): €11
- Family (2 Adults and 1 or 2 kids): €53
- Senior Citizen (65+): €17
- Student: € 17
4. How long the Spike Island tours take
When you buy a ticket for one of the Spike Island tours, your journey over on the ferry is included. Your return ticket is for 3.5 hours later, so you should allow at least 4.5 hours for a visit.
About Spike Island prison
A short ferry ride from the gorgeous little fishing village of Cobh in County Cork lies a 103-acre island that has been used as a place of worship, defence, confinement and punishment.
Spike Island prison was originally the site of a monastic settlement, but for over 200 years it has been dominated by the star fort named ‘Fort Mitchel’.
In the last 1300 years, Spike Island has been host to a 6th-century Monastery, a 24-acre fortress, the largest convict depot in the world in Victorian times and centuries of island dwellings.
The island’s vast and varied history has included monks and monasteries, rioters and redcoats, captains and convicts and sinners and saints.
At one point, the island was used to house convicts prior to penal transportation, and this is where the nickname of ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’ came from.
Spike Island history: The story behind Ireland’s Alcatraz
Via Spike Island on Facebook
One of the reason the Spike Island tours are so popular is thanks to Spike Island’s history… it’s very dark history.
According to reports, when Spike Island prison was the world’s largest prison in the 1850s, the treatment of convicts was nothing short of horrific.
The ‘Punishment Block’
A ‘Punishment Block’ was the only purpose-built cell block in the Fort, and it was built in response to the murder of Warder William Reddy in 1856.
It was made up of 28 solitary confinement cells and housed the most dangerous prisoners on the island.
Each prisoner was heavily chained and clothed in black from head to toe, with a veil hiding all but their eyes. In the blocks early years, the cells were furnished with only a stool, and prisoners slept on the floor.
There were several suicide attempts and the Punishment Block was the main reason that Spike Island was described as “Hell on earth” by many.
Mass graves, which litter the island, are the result of foul conditions and overcrowding during the worst of Ireland’s famine years.
Spike Island tours
There are 2 different Spike Island tours that you can head off on: the Regular Tour and the After Dark Tour.
The Regular Tour should suit those of you that are on a day-trip to Cobh while the After Dark Tour is a different kettle of fish altogether.
The Regular Tour
The first of the 2 Spike Island tours is the Regular Tour . Included in your ticket is a guided tour from where the ferry lets you off to the Fortress.
The guided tour lasts around 45 minutes and during this time a skilled storyteller will take you on a journey through Spike Islands history.
When the tour ends, you can explore the forts and the prison on your own.
The After Dark Tour
Those that embark upon the after-dark tour on Spike Island will be told the stories of several murders that took place on the island.
One of these murders was of nationalist Patrick White, who was killed during a spiteful act of revenge.
Another story tells of the brutal murder of a prison warder in the 1800s. This horrific killing was carried out by some of the many dangerous inhabitants that were imprisoned on Spike.
The tour also takes visitors along the mysterious underground tunnels and cells that are inaccessible during the day time tours.
Things to do near Spike Island
One of the beauties of Spike Island prison is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Spike Island in Cork (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Food in Cobh
Photo left: The Commodore Hotel. Photo right: Harbour Browns Steakhouse (Facebook)
When you arrive back from Spike, the chances are you’ll have worked up an appetite. Thankfully, there are some excellent restaurants in Cobh a short ramble aways from where you’re dropped off (there are also plenty of Cobh hotels if you want to spend the night).
2. Attractions within walking distance of the pier
Photo by Peter OToole (shutterstock)
There’s plenty of other things to do in Cobh when you finish up at Spike. One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Titanic Experience Cobh , but there’s also St. Coleman’s Catheral , the Deck of Cards and much more.
3. Fota Wildlife Park
Photos via Fota Wildlife Park on Facebook
The brilliant Fota Wildlife Park is a stone’s throw from Cobh town centre (you’ll need to drive) and it’s a great spot if you’re after more unique Cork attractions .
FAQs about visiting Spike Island in Cork
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the Spike Island tours to what to expect from a visit.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How do you get to Spike Island?
You get to Spike Island via a ferry from Kennedy pier in the centre of Cobh. The ferry takes around 15 minutes each way and leaves several times each day.
Is Spike Island really worth visiting?
Yes! Spike Island in Cork is a fantastic little spot to escape to when visiting Cork. The history is dark and interesting and the reviews for the Spike Island tours are excellent.
Is there much to do nearby?
Yep! You’ve plenty to see in Cobh itself or you’re a short spin away from the likes of Fota and Cork City.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.
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Friday 17th of June 2022
Looking forward to visiting Spike Island in early July, what is the best time to visit.
Sunday 8th of March 2020
Interesting, this dark part in the history of Ireland. No one has ever mentioned this before. Sort of scared the day lights out of me. But would certainly like to visit it the next time around when I get to Ireland.
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Spike Island Tours
In the last 1300 years Spike Island has been host to a 7th century Monastery, a 24 acre Fortress, the largest convict depot in the world in Victorian times and centuries of island homes. The island's rich history has included monks and monasteries, rioters and redcoats, captains and convicts and sinners and saints.
Today the island is dominated by the 200 year old Fort Mitchel, the star shaped Fortress which became a prison holding over 2300 prisoners. It was the largest prison in the world at the time and there has never been a larger prison in Ireland or Britain before or since. Discover more about our rich history and colourful characters here.
Spike Island is reached by ferry from Kennedy pier, Cobh.
Heritage town Cobh is just 24 minutes by train or 25 minutes by car from Cork city centre.
Parking is recommended at the Five Foot Way (15 minute walk) or Cobh Cathderal car park (15 minute walk).
Allow at least 20 minutes to park and walk to the ferry. The ferry must leave on time and cannot wait, there are no refunds for late arrivals.
Cafe and toilet facilities located on the island. Allow up to 3.5 hours per visit. Longer / shorter visits on request.
For groups of 15 or more, phone (021) 237 3455 to secure space, group rates available, or email [email protected]
For bus from Cork city - Cobh please contact the bus station or our concierge team will be more than happy to assist with booking.