Review of Michael Martin’s Spike Island Tour:
Michael Martins famous Historic Walking Tour of Spike Island is one of the most highly ratedattractions for people visiting Cork. Tours board at Kennedy pier in the centre of Cobh, with Michaelhimself there to greet you warmly and enthusiastically. After takeoff one can enjoy fantastic views ofthe harbour and town on the way across to the Island.
After arriving on the island, Michael briefly outlines and brings a few health and safety issues to yourattention. Following this, however, there is no delay and Michael gets straight to business. Michaelbegins initially by addressing a few of the myths surrounding the island and setting some of themstraight for example that the structure on Spike Island was built to be and always was a prison. Theisland, in fact, has a rich military history and was used to defend the harbour from attack as it ispositioned very strategically in Cork Harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world afterSydney, Australia.
Throughout the tour Michael’s enthusiasm and great personality shine through. Michael recountsthe story of Spike Island with a sense of both pride and passion. Information drawn from hispersonal research is incorporated seamlessly into an informal yet very informative talk. The allaround atmosphere is more of a chat with each individual present and an overview of the Islandsentire history is summarised with nothing left out. This is of course to be fleshed out piece by pieceas our tour continues. Customs and traditions which would have been adhered to throughout theislands history are outlined for example the system by which English Army personnel would be givenlarger residencies on the island as they got married and had more children. Those taking the tour getto see these sites first hand.
Michael is able to recount stories of people who have returned to visit the island having once lived,been stationed or been detained on the island (or whose relatives had been) and their reaction tothis return visit. All these stories are relayed in a relaxed, anecdotal style which makes for a muchmore stimulating experience than simply being read from a brochure. While walking up the windingroad towards the fort, Michael stops every so often to relay little gems of information including thesmall school which once had been on the Island for the local children and to link some fascinatingstories to the actual sites at which they had occurred. Once the fort itself is reached, the history ofits name as well as its many uses are explained and you get a real sense of what it was like to arriveto this fort either as a new recruit or as a detainee.
The many stages of the Fort’s rich history are recounted including its use as a British Military baseto its handing over in 1938 to the Irish and it being renamed Fort Mitchel. One of the highlights isthe “Burnt Block” which got destroyed when the inmates mutinied and briefly controlled the areaduring the Fort’s period as a correctional facility between 1985 and 2004. Another highlight is theopportunity to get up close and personal with a fully restored piece of military artillery, a huge gun,mounted at its original strategic position looking out to Roche’s Point with magnificent views of theapproaches to Cork Harbour.
Although one has to remain with the group at all times, it is clearly explained to us that it simplyis not safe to wander unaccompanied around the island if you are unfamiliar with it. This howeverdoes not take away from the tour in the slightest. Michael Martin is able to answer any questionsasked immediately and one can be sure that the answer will be well backed up with solid knowledge
of the island.
Michael’s passion for this Island is clearly visible from every word he speaks during the tour. Hespeaks of the plans to have the Island levelled and used as a site for a super prison with a true senseof injustice and speaks with pride of how his book (the first book written about the island) and hiscampaigning are some of the main reasons why the island was maintained as a historical site.
At €14.50 for an adult ticket, the tour may seem expensive, but it is good value for money andcertainly a must see for anyone travelling to Cobh or indeed Cork.