Spike Island holds a unique place among the world’s prisons: a welcome necessity for the prison authorities of Ireland, a remote and dangerous posting for its staff, a grand hell for those convicted to serve time behind its walls.
For almost four decades the Victorian prison on Spike Island was home to Ireland’s most serious and notorious criminals. Established in the midst of one of the worst famines in global history, this huge facility became the largest prison in what was then the United Kingdom, dwarfing institutions like Dartmoor, Pentonville, Mountjoy and Kilmainham. High death rates during its formative years meant that many of its malnourished inmates were laid to rest beneath its sod. Yet Spike Island was to become a beacon of penal reform, influencing modern correctional systems in countries as far apart as the USA and Germany.
The story told in this book is one that is, in turn, dramatic, shocking, touching and humorous. The life of the prison was vibrant, peopled by the unfortunate of society alongside those who committed serious, sometimes gruesome, crimes. This is the story of the establishment and evolution of the prison, the often fascinating lives of prisoners and staff and of a time when a renowned Irish fortress of British military power entered the annals of penal infamy.