7 July 2017
By Elaine Murphy
Richard Andrews, Australian Ambassador to Ireland, has today visited Spike Island on Cobh’s Australia Day, the day which celebrates the arrival of an Australian cruise liner into Cobh. The Sea Princess arrived in this morning with 2,342 visitors aboard.
Councillor Cathal Rasmussen, deputising for the Mayor of the County of Cork and Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton TD accompanied Ambassador Andrews on his tour of the island.
Cllr Rasmussen offered a very warm welcome to Ambassador Andrews both to Cobh and to Spike Island, “A visit to Spike Island is a tour of 1300 years of history. A key part of that history is the link between Ireland and Australia, of which Spike Island played a key role. It is an honour to meet Ambassador Andrews and join him on a tour of this island which has been transformed by Cork County Council into an iconic attraction.”
Spike Island was once used as a holding area for convicts before transportation to Australia and Tasmania but Cork County Council has been developing the island into a top tourism attraction. The Island has grown in popularity and has been recently nominated as Europe’s leading tourist attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards 2017. The island is ranked number 2 in Cork on Tripadvisor ratings, 2nd only to Fota wildlife park.
Ambassador Andrews speaking of his visit, “I would like to thank Minister Stanton for his invitation to visit his beloved home county. I am pleased that today will be a celebration of the shared experiences and values that connect Cork and Ireland to Australia. Beginning this morning I addressed Cork Chamber and discussed with them the enormous potential for increased business, trade and innovation between our two countries. This potential is a natural outcome of our intertwined history and strong people to people links. I look forward to exploring the historical connections during my visit to the wonderful new Spike Island tourist attraction and during the blessing of the bonnets ceremony later, part of an Irish Australian project called ‘Roses from the Heart’ by artist Christina Henri that commemorates the many thousands of convict women transported from Ireland to Australia. Finally, I look forward to meeting the Captain of the cruise liner Sea Princess which brings many Australian tourists to Cobh for their wonderful ‘Australia Day’ celebrations.”
Minister Stanton was delighted to accompany Ambassador Andrews and showcase some of Cobh’s many tourist attractions. “I would like to congratulate Cobh Tourism for organising today’s Australia Day events and for the work they, and Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce put in each year to promote Cobh visitor attractions. In addition to the increase in liner visits to Cobh in recent years, there has also been substantial State investment in Cobh’s tourism product. I am proud to be able to visit just some of the sights today with Ambassador Andrews particularly those which highlight the links between our two countries – Spike Island is steeped in history, a large part of which attributed to its role as the holding centre for convicts before they were transported to Australia. Convicts included many women and children whose lives will be commemorated this evening with a blessing of the bonnets ceremony.”
Reached by ferry from Cobh, visitors to the island are taken on a guided tour through the islands 1300 years of history. The island was home to 6th century monastery before a 3000 capacity star shaped Fortress was built in the early 1800’s, to protect the Southern approaches to Western Europe. That same Fortress became the largest prison in the world in the 1850’s, when its numbers swelled during the famine years to over 2300.
The prison closed in 1883. The British army subsequently resided on the island for the next 55 years before a handover to the Irish state in 1938. The Irish army and navy used the island and fortress over the next 47 years before the island became a prison once again, until as recently as 2004.
Cork County Council acquired Spike Island 7 years ago and during this time a tourism destination has been created which has seen more than 100,000 visitors in less than four years.
Phase 1 in the development of Spike Island commenced in August 2015 at a cost of €6m, with funding of €2.5m provided by Failte Ireland and the balance from Cork County Council.