Spike Island has a total area of 104 acres which is topped by the 24-acre Fort Mitchel. The area surrounding the Fort is known as the glacis, which is French for slope, and its steep and steady climb with no cover made it very difficult for attackers to reach the fort. This slope was built by the convicts housed in the island’s prison, with up to 18 men at a time pushing heavy carts of soil to fill in and create the slope. The perfect short grass of the glacis and occasional flattened area betrays the fact that the glacis was once used as a golf course, as British Officers had the convicts build them a 9-hole golf course on the fort’s slopes! Today it makes for a spectacular location to sit and enjoy the incredible views of Cobh on the North side, or Cork Harbour on the south side.
Further out in the island are many houses and even a village with homes, a church and a school. A social community began to from when the British built the first fortification in 1779, and it developed and grew in the early 1800s. At one point, hundreds of civilians lived on the island, the families of the soldiers or prions officers, and some boat men and crew. The social habitation ended in 1985 when the prison riot of that year forced their removal, but the numbers had been dwindling with each passing decade. Some once beautiful homes now dot the island, mostly in a derelict state, and are interesting to display the ravages of time and the once large community.
To the west of the Island sits a full size football pitch which was used by the British and Irish military for sports days, and also by the prison guards of the 1980s prison for recreation purposes. Just south of the pitch lies the convict cemetery, where up to 300 bodies lie in unmarked graves, with only a handful of gravestones giving prisoner numbers. A second mass grave on the islands east side is currently unmarked, with plans to identify it in 2023.
On the west of the island is a beach that was often used by locals for swimming, while a second long length of beach occupies the island north side. The north side facing Cobh also has many accommodation blocks and the gun drill shed. The gun shed housed a 6″ artillery gun and this was used to train the troops ahead of firing the main guns in the fort.
The residents of Spike Island have always shared the island with the many birds and animals that dot the harbour coastline and today the island is part of conservation efforts for endangered species. Several rare bird species have been identified, and efforts a creating a robust bio-diversity plan are underway.