In 1847 Spike Island became a convict depot. The Irish nationalist and writer John Mitchel was held here for three days in 1848 before being transported to Bermuda. Fearing that he might be rescued by other Irish Nationalists, Mitchel was later moved to Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania). Mitchel’s Jail Journal – one of Irish nationalism’s most famous texts – was conceived and perhaps started while he was incarcerated on Spike Island.
By 1850 over 2,000 convicts were detained on Spike Island. In the 1860 and 1870s several Fenian prisoners were held here but in 1883 the last of the prisoners was relocated to prisons on the mainland.
Almost a century later, the island became a prison again. Between 1985 and 2004 the fort was used to hold young offenders – mainly ‘joyriders’ convicted of stealing and recklessly driving cars.
A riot in August 1985 received international media coverage and led to the reorganisation of the prison and the conversion of the north-east and north-west casemates into secure cells that can still be seen today.