ANN MASSEY O’REGAN visits Spike Island in Cobh, County Cork, to discover one of Ireland’s most haunted and eeriest landmarks.
Spike Island is a name that instantly draws images of intrigue and darkness. Named after a natural phenomenon, this landmark location has borne witness to violence and despair over centuries. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to step foot on this internationally recognised landmark of historical fascination and paranormal intrigue.
Titanic pier and first glimpse of Spike Island
My guide and host for the night, John Flynn met me at the quayside in Cobh. Poignantly it was beside what remains of the old pier, where the final passengers embarked on RMS Titanic, setting an eerie tone for the evening in front of me. A greyness and mist descended as I glimpsed upon Spike Island in the distance for the first time.
I joined the boat with many excited people attending a screening of ‘The Conjuring’ in Fort Mitchel and an After Dark tour. The passion and excitement John expressed while chatting to passengers quickly got the group very enthusiastic and more than a little nervous at what lay ahead!
Spooky history and ghosts
On arrival we were split into two groups. I joined the one being led by Noel, who let us know in no uncertain terms that this was no Disney theme park – exactly what I wanted to hear! Noel reminded us that the men incarcerated were fearful men and when they left they were broken men, having been subjected to hard labour, isolation and silence before being shipped to Australia.
As we walked from the jetty we stopped to look around at the houses and quarry. We were informed that the island began as a monastic settlement, saw the regime of Oliver Cromwell, was a military garrison and home to many islanders as well as a prison for centuries.
Stopping at the quarry, we were painted a picture of inmates, digging in silence as they were subjected to continuous and severe labour. The history I was discovering about this incredible location was mind-blowing. Tales of escapees and ships blowing up in the waters, from the Siege of Cork to the Ship of Murders – all before we had reached the fort!
Ghostly accounts of the Gaunt Gunner and military men being scared out of their wits by spectral officers hit home as we reached the entrance to the ominous Fort Mitchel. Nothing prepares you for the vastness and foreboding sensation as you enter the grounds and see the prison buildings for the first time.
Seeking the paranormal
As my travel companions seated themselves ready for some on-screen scares, I was invited to investigate the punishment block. Entering such a building alone, even on a bright evening is thrilling and nerve-wracking in equal measure. The dark, dank interior was a stark contrast to outside and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.
Reading the dark history of the inmates, stepping into the cells myself and hearing my solitary footsteps echo through the narrow corridors was spine-tingling. Chilling breezes, strange sounds and an unmistakable whistle by my ear just spurred me on to explore more of this exceptional location.
To add to the thrill of the night, as I met back up with John and the other guides, we noticed a light on in a locked building where the key was not on the island. At first it was assumed the light had been left on since the office closed the day before, however photos I had taken earlier in the evening proved otherwise!
Continuing on to what is locally known as the abandoned cells, the first thing that strikes you is the huge door that closes with a creak and sinister bang, screaming finality and despair. The cell block was lit by candles, adding to the already creepy atmosphere.
Exploring these cells, bleak and oppressive, I learned of some of the ghostly encounters staff and visitors have experienced and how many of them will not enter the prison block alone.
Having already been successfully spooked by the movie, my travel companions took to exploring the cells with their guides and judging by the screams and laughter they were being terrorised and amused in equal measure!
All too soon my time on the island was at a close and we headed back down to the jetty. Following the paths in the dark knowing what we did, you could be forgiven for walking that little bit faster! As the boat pulled away there was the strange sensation of silent eyes watching, as we sailed across the black glass like waters and back into the bright lights of Cobh.
Glancing over my shoulder I realised a connection between myself and Spike Island had been formed. For all I have seen there is so much more to experience and I cannot wait to return. A visit to remember and definitely one to be repeated.
My thanks to John Crotty, John Flynn and the wonderful guides on Spike Island.
For more information on visiting this outstanding landmark go to Spike Island website.