The Irish Volunteers Commemorative Organisation has a small display and Information desk at an event on Spike Island on June 27 and June 28, 2015.

The event was a Republican memorial weekend to all the several hundred Irish Republican prisoners who were interned on Spike Island over the many years as its use as a prison.

There was a wreath laying ceremony to prisoner IRA Captain White who was shot down by British Forces on the Island.

We were also very happy to meet the Kenny Family who shared their photos and History of IRA Volunteer Joseph Kenny. They kindly gave us information and photographs to share with you all, thank you. Please see the article below concerning Joseph under the photographs.

Joseph Kenny Profile (Patriot, Rate Collector & Farmer)

Born: June 10, 1877, Lyredane, Co Cork – 3rd youngest of 9 children.

Died : May 24, 1954, Woods Street, Cork.

 

Joined the Volunteers Oct. 1917, Grenagh F. Coy. 6th. Batt. (was then 3rd Batt.) 1st Cork Brigade.   Appointed quarter master – all local meetings held at his house.

Arrested July 15, 1920!

 

The Hunger Strike lasted 94 days; from Aug 11, 1920 to Nov 12, 1920.  Joseph joined the strike Aug 14 or 15, on being released from the infirmary.  He and 8 others survived the strike, 3 died, one a 17 year-old youth.

 

He was then aged 43, the father of 7 children; his 8th and youngest child, Margaret Rosaleen (Ita) was born September 24, 1920.

Held first in Cork Gaol, then Cork Detention Barracks (after the hunger strike) then Spike Island and lastly Beara.  Released on Parole January 15, 1922, two weeks before the General Amnesty.

Below: Joseph Kenny (c 1909) and his wife Mary with their 8 children 1920

 

Joseph Kenny & Mary O’Connor, 19 April 1906

Joseph Kenny & Mary O’Connor, 19 April 1906

Joseph Kenny & Mary O’Connor, 19 April 1906

Kenny family 1920

History

The island was the site of a monastic settlement in the 7th century, and was used by smugglers for some time.

Its location at the entrance to Cork Harbour meant that the island held strategic importance, and it was a significant site in the French intervention following the Glorious Revolution. The island was later purchased by the British government in 1779 and Fort Westmoreland was developed on the site to designs by Charles Vallancey .The fort was proposed by the Royal Engineer Charles Holloway and named for John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and fortified gun emplacements were constructed facing the mouth of the harbour.

Plan of Spike Island

Later a prison and convict depot, the island was used to house “convicts” prior to penal transportation. It gained a reputation as “Ireland’s Alcatraz.It remained in use as a garrison and prison through the Irish war of Independence, when IRA prisoners were held there.Richard Barrett was among those detained there, but escaped during the truce of 1921.He was later executed as a reprisal by the Free State Army during the Civil War.

Treaty port

On 6 December 1921, the Anglo Irish Treaty was concluded. It provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State which happened on 6 December 1922. The Treaty included provisions by which the British would retain sovereignty over three strategically important ports known as the Treaty ports, one of which being described in the Treaty as:

Queenstown

(b) Harbour defences to remain in charge of British care and maintenance parties. Certain mooring buoys to be retained for use of His Majesty’s ships.

A member of the British Army (with family) departing following the secession of Spike Island (July 1938)

Accordingly, even after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the British Royal Navy continued to maintain its presence at Spike Island. Spike Island remained under British sovereignty until 11 July 1938 when, pursuant to the Anglo Irish Trade Agreement of 25 April 1938, the territory was seceded to Ireland. The hand-over ceremonies were attended by senior military and political figures, including Eamon de Valera and Frank Aiken.

History since handover

Following its handover to Ireland, the island’s installations were renamed Fort Mitchel – after John Mitchell, nationalist activist and political journalist who was held on the island for a time. (Similar Treaty Port fortifications at Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle were similarly renamed to Fort Meagherand Fort Davis respectively.)The island remained the site of a prison and military base (for the regular Irish Army, the FCA and later the Navy) for some time. Late into the 20th century it was used as a youth correctional facility. On 1 September 1985 inmates rioted and, as a subsequent Dail committee reported, “civilians, prison officers and the Gardai on the Island were virtual prisoners of the criminals”.During the riot, one of the accommodation blocks, Block A, caught fire and is known as the Burnt Block. This prison facility closed in 2004.

The island also had a small civilian population, which was serviced by a small school, church and ferry (launch) service to Cobh. The island is known locally for having excellent earth for growing crops. The civilian population has since left the island however, with many previous residents moving to nearby Cobh.

In May 2006 the then Minister for Justice announced plans to build a new prison on the island. However, in January 2007, it was decided to explore an alternative site for the new prison, and a local task group was set up to re-open Spike as a historical tourist site. In 2009 it was announced that ownership of the island would be transferred (free of charge) to Cork county council to enable its development as a tourist attraction. The Council formed a steering group to explore how Spike Island might be developed as a tourist site, and the Council subsequently licensed operators to give guided tours of the island.

Tours now depart from Cobh during the summer,[taking in the fort, prison cells, and gun emplacements. There is a café in the former prison gym which caters to visitors.