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Recent excavation work on Spike Island has uncovered a tunnel with a previously unknown crafted stone spiral staircase which is believed to date to the 1790s.  The tunnel which leads from the inner fortress to the outer moat was known to the island’s heritage team and had been sealed for many decades, while the stone staircase was a thrilling surprise.

It is believed to be part of the original 10 acre British fortress which was built on Spike Island in the late 1700’s.  This fort was considered too small to protect the Empire and prevent an invasion by Napoleon so a second much larger fort was started in 1804.  This swallowed up the previous fort, coming in at 24 acres which makes it one of the largest military structures in the world.  The tunnel and the staircase which leads to the top of the forts walls were then redundant and the tunnel was blocked up many decades ago.  The team also found large bones which have since been identified as animal and some half drunk bottles of wine, which are now being dated.  

The work to upgrade the forts and the high quality of the spiral staircase are in keeping with the work of General Charles Vallencey, who was the man responsible for the Cork harbour fortifications.  He also did works to the Parade Ground in limerick, Ross castle in Killarney and he built Mellows Bridge in Dublin which stands to this day.  He is fondly known as ‘The Englishman who loved Ireland’ by the staff on Spike Island as he took a huge interest in the Irish language and Irish history and antiquities, building up a fine collection and starting or joining many eminent Irish societies.  He also had 4 Irish wives and had 14 children so by all account he was a very busy individual.   

The stunning unexpected find was made by the islands maintenance and heritage teams while uncovering new areas as Cork County Council look to continue adding to the site.  The island had hoped to grow its numbers in 2020 after 4 successful years and increased explosrue aborad.  The island is featuring on two Discover Channels series at present and in ‘How the Victorians built Britain’ in the UK.  The council have invested significantly in the site to promote tourism to the harbour area and plan to continue adding to the location to further encourage overnight stays.  With Fota Wildlife, Cobh heritage centre, Titanic Cobh and Spike Island in close proximity the area is seeing encouraging domestic numbers. 

The island has over 1,300 years of history having been first used as a monastic settlement in the 7th century, but it became a home to pirates, a fortress and was once the largest prison in the world with 2300 inmates.  There have been 4 separate prison on the island over the last 400 years earning the island the title of ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’, although the site has a more varied history of social, military and prison use than the San Francisco site.

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