Punishment Block

The Punishment Block is the only purpose built cell block in the Fort. It was built in response to the murder of Warder William Reddy in 1856.

Work began in 1858 using local limestone with military and convict labour and it was opened in 1860.

It consisted of twenty eight solitary confinement cells and housed the ‘Penal Class’, considered the most dangerous prisoners. They were heavily chained and clothed in black from head to toe, with a veil hiding all but their eyes.

Conditions inside the block were the harshest inside the prison. At first the cells were furnished with only a stool and convicts slept on the floor.  Prisoner descriptions of medieval conditions in a Victorian prison outraged many.  There were several suicide attempts and the block was the main reason that Spike Island was described as "Hell on earth" by the penal classes.  A sentence to Spike Island was the worst time any offender could do and this was largely attributable to the Punishment block. 

During the convict era 1847-1883, it housed political prisoners who were guilty of 'treason against the Crown'. 

Today visitors can see the Guard room and learn how archaeologists worked on the site. The Dark Cells can be explored by torchlight while the modern solitary cells are also on view which were in use right up until 2004. The cells of Irish nationalists Patrick Tierney and John Mitchel are both recreated and the upstairs rooms of the block contain an art exhibition of prisoners artwork created in the 1980's and 1990's. .