When you think dream holiday, you’re probably not thinking about escaping to an isolated island off the coast of Ireland that boasts it’s very own prison are you? Well it turns out you should, because Spike Island near Cork has been named the top tourist destination of 2017!
Nope, we’re not pulling your leg, the annual World Travel Awards (this year held in Russia’s St Petersburg) declared the 103-acre island in Ireland’s south a must visit thanks to it’s rich history dating back to the 6th century.
Originally the site of a monastery, the island was later turned into a military base and then further evolved into a busy port used for restocking during the war of American Independence.
Fast forward to the 19th century and the island, now known as Fort Mitchel, was turned into a political prison by the British during the Irish War of Independence. It’s nickname back then was ‘Irish Alcatraz’ and even after the Irish Republican Army prisoners were released and Ireland became independent, the island stayed in the ownership of Britain until 1938.
However the island’s prison status never really went away. When you’ve got a working prison that’s naturally fortified thanks to bucket loads of water, you keep bringing people there, and prisoners were kept there until 2004!
No one lives on Spike Island anymore and after splashing a hefty €5.5 million on renovations, Cork City Council has made it a flourishing tourist attraction. Accessible by ferry, visitors can now learn about the history of the island, see prison cells as they were in the 80s, see the walls and guns, and even peep the Victorian-era children’s prison (yep!).
There’s also a whole village to explore of course, but what keeps people coming back is the night time ghost tours that are every bit as spooky as you’d imagine a super old, ex-prison would be.
Are you starting to see why they won the top spot? Spike Island lauded the news on their Facebook page saying: “We beat off the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower and more to win the highest award a tourist site can win. We also became the first ever site outside of the capitals to win this award.”
Interestingly enough, this is the third year in a row Ireland has won Europe’s top tourist destination award! In 2016 Belfast’s epic Titanic Exhibition scored #1 place, and in 2015 Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse took home the trophy. The lesson here of course is that if you haven’t been to Ireland, you’re really missing out!