6 July 2023
By Bryan McCarthy
Spike Island commemorates its 85th Anniversary with exhibition detailing the events of the 1938 Treaty Ports Handover
Spike Island has a new exhibition, ‘The Handover of Spike Island’, commemorating the 85th anniversary of the momentous 1938 handover of the Treaty Ports from Britain to Ireland. This fascinating exhibition features a newly added collection of original artefacts donated by Fionnghuala Smith and her family, shedding light on the story of Daniel Cusack, a seaman from Spike Island and on the events of July 11th 1938.
Unveiling a treasure trove of original documents, photographs, and artefacts, this exhibition will captivate visitors as they explore the fascinating history surrounding the 1938 handover. The collection, on public display for the first time, enables a unique glimpse into the past and highlights the pivotal role of Spike Island during this historic event.
Speaking ahead of the official launch, Spike Island Museum Curator Dorota Gubbins reflected on the significance of the exhibition, “Curating this exhibition has been fascinating and such a rewarding experience. The 1938 Handover is such a significant date in the history of not only Spike Island but the surrounding Harbour and the entire island of Ireland and we’re delighted to commemorate the anniversary with this exhibition. Visitors to the island will be able to view a new collection of never before seen artefacts which tell the story of this momentous occasion.”
At the heart of the collection is a remarkable document, dated ’11th July 1938,’ believed to be the first official record signed by the Irish authority at Spike Island. This invaluable piece provides an authentic insight into the administrative processes surrounding the handover.
One of the exhibition’s unique artefacts is a personal eyewitness account of the handover, written just moments after the ceremony. Donated to the curatorial staff at Spike Island in 2017, this account provides an intimate perspective on the historic event. In honour of the 85th anniversary, the Spike Island team has created a captivating video based on the contents of this letter, offering visitors a chance to relive the excitement that filled Cobh and Cork Harbour on that monumental day.
In addition, visitors can view the list of officers and enlisted men who arrived at Spike Island on 11 July 1938, generously made available by the Spike Island Volunteer Group. This rare document provides insight into the personnel involved in the handover and adds another layer of historical significance to the exhibition.
A highlight of the exhibition is the display of the national flag, believed to be the original Tricolour raised during the 1938 Handover. This symbolic artefact, donated by Mr. Tom Kelly of Cobh in 2018, serves as a poignant symbol of the historic occasion and offers a tangible connection to the past.
Ms. Gubbins acknowledged the family of Daniel Cusack for their kind donations saying, “This exhibition would not have been possible without Fionnghuala Smith and her family who kindly donated artefacts belonging to her grandfather Daniel Cusack. This collection sheds light on his story, and all those involved in the significant event.”
Spike Island will continue its 85th anniversary commemorations this Saturday evening with their annual Independence celebration and fireworks display which is set to light up Cork Harbour once again. A total of 1300 fireworks will illuminate the sky, symbolising the inmates who tragically lost their lives during Spike Island’s history as a prison in what promises to be a special tribute and a poignant reminder of the island’s past.
The Handover of Spike Island exhibition will be open to visitors at Mitchel Hall until 30th September 2023.