Children's Prison

Before Victorian times there was no distinction between age groups when it came to crime and punishment, but during the 1850s when Spike Island's prison population had swollen to the largest in the world, people began to discuss the need for prisoner reform rather than punishment.

Conditions would slowly improve for child convicts and by the time Spike Island's 19th Century prison was built it was decided to at least seprate the adults from the children.  But a sentence on Spike Island was still very hard for the 100 children who were held in the childrens dormitory.  Long chains were hung from the ceiling and they supported several hammocks in which the children would sleep, having to scamper up the chains to their designated bunk. 

Sadly not all children made it off the island with many succumbing to the difficult conditions.  A good many would have arrived already weak from the famine conditions which had gripped Ireland in the late 1840s.

The building used to house the boys became the shell store for the fort, used to protect the ammunition from enemy shells.  Today the building houses a re-creation of the cells identical to those on a convict vessel.  These convict ships were moored in Cork harbour and transported prisoners from Ireland to overseas.  There are also video installations telling the stories of three generations of Spike Island prisoners seperated by 3 centuries.  Next to this is our John Mitchel room which tells the story of the nationalist after whom the fort is named.

Our social history rooms have many interviews with the former residents of the island and the adjoining Cork harbour room has old maps from the harbour and an interactive audio display where you can steer a ship into Cork Harbour and use the cannons on Spike Island to defend the harbour!​

This fascinating building with its tragic past and modern interpreation is not to be missed on a visit to Spike Island.