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Fort Mitchell

The 24 acre star shaped Fort Mitchel is one of the largest in the world and it was the cutting edge of military technology when it was completed around 1850.  The design replaced the old straight walled design of Norman castles, which were big and impressive but an easy target for ever improving cannon fire.  The star element emerged around the 1500's in Italy and it was used in cities like Pisa and by Michelangelo in his defence of Florence.  The points of the star shape meant that defenders had overlapping arcs of fire over all parts of the island, making the whole island one effective kill zone.  Should an enemy get close enough to the fort, flanking galleries were built into the sides of the bastion providing firing positions for defensive troops to fire on enemy troops.  These flanking galleries were infanty firing position set into the forts walls with narrow firting ports, which enabled defenders to fire on approaching enemy troops from relative safety.  The whole fort itself was built with a low profile, setting it down into the islands summit in such a way that it can barely be seen by approaching enemy troops.  This made it very difficult to target the fort with cannonfire from ships in the harbour.  The British engineers shaved over 25 feet off the top of the island.  The fort was designed and built by General Vallency, a famous character of his time who was an excellent engineer, an early Irish historian and he also had 4 wives and 14 children!


Before the present fort was built, two earlier forts had been constructed in the late 1700's as the strategic importance of Spike Island was recognised long before Winston Chruchill in 1938 would call the island "the sentinel tower of the approaches to Western Europe". The work on the present fort began in 1804 when the threat of invasion from Napoleon was very real but after his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, military building began to slow down.  By 1820 the main work of the walls, bastions and some accommodation blocks were complete, before the funds dried up for military building entirely.  By this time an impressive fortress had emerged fit to defend Cork harbour.   

On its completion the Fort was capable of garrisoning up to 3000 men, but as a result of the famine years in Ireland it also had to hold prisoners from 1847 to 1883 in addition to its military garrison.  After 1883 it returned to miliary use, a purpose until the British left in 1938.   The Fort was used by both the British army and the Irish army and Naval Service over much of the 20th century before becoming a civilian prison again from 1985 to 2004.  

The Fort was originally called Fort Westmoreland but it was renamed Fort Mitchel after the Irish Nationalist John Mitchel who was a prisoner on Spike Island in 1848.  

Today visitors can go through the forts impressive entrance  to the enormous parade ground inside, and many of the original buildings and tunnels can be explored as part of you vist to Spike Island Cork.