The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island – Europe’s Leading Tourist Destination

The beautiful island off the coast of Ireland has seen 1,000 people die in just four years.
The terrifying past of Spike Island - Europe's leading tourist destination
On the island off the southwestern coast of Ireland is a picturesque, star-shaped castle. But it was once one of the most notorious prisons in the world, according to CNN.
Currently, Spike Island becomes an impressive place to visit - like Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco (USA) or Robben Island in South Africa. But under Victoria, it used to be the grave of so many prisoners who came and never left, with more than 1,000 dead in just four years

The island seen from above. Photo: CNN.
To find out about the mysteries of the dead on the island, biologist Barra O’Donnabhain began excavating the cemetery for the criminals here in 2013

Over the past five years, O’Donnabhain and his team have uncovered mysteries long buried on Spike Island, including a complicated procedure once carried out on prisoners' coffins.

The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island - Europe's Leading Tourist Destination

Spike Island - often referred to as "Ireland's Alcatraz" - has a multilayered history. Early records suggest that the 42-hectare island may have been a religious settlement since the 6th century. It gradually developed into a British military base in the 18th century, before becoming a transit station for prisoners to criminal colonies like Australia or Bermuda.
“Prisons are opened up by the authorities to deal with a crisis caused by increased hunger and crime, as the law punishes,” said O'Donnabhain, professor of archeology at the University of Cork in Ireland. Theft was very severe at the time ”.
Since 1847, men as young as 12 years old have been sent to Spike Island after committing a number of crimes, such as stealing potatoes, which are quite underestimated today.
However by 1853, the number of prisoners on the island had risen to 2,500, making it possibly the largest prison in the British Empire at that time, if not the whole world, in terms of the number of prisoners

The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island - Europe's Leading Tourist Destination

Up to 40 prisoners are locked in each 65-square-meter dormitory, with no separate cells for particularly dangerous criminals.
According to the few remaining records and accounts, prisoners of all kinds are tightly chained from wrists to ankles, causing fractures, and many describe it as a "hell on earth".
Prison system on the island. Photo: CNN.
O’Donnabhain explained, the forced labor regime, poor living conditions and a lack of diet, caused people to die almost every day in the first years.
Records indicate that in one of the island's two cemeteries as many as 1,000 prisoners died before 1860. O'Donnabhain's team unearthed 35 tombs at a cemetery used after 1860. Accordingly, from this time, the number of deaths has decreased significantly to one person per month.

The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island - Europe's Leading Tourist Destination

He was surprised to discover a habit of inmates burying fellow prisoners. They meticulously painted cheap pine coffins to make it look like oak coffins.
O’Donnabhain said: “I think it is like a gift given to the dead by the living prisoners. They are buried in a crime cemetery on a notorious island, marginalized by society. But these prisoners only do it with someone who earns respect ”.
But one of the most curious findings is that a few of the bones with the top of the skull have been removed.
O'Donnabhain speculates that this may be part of a large study by Italian scientist Cesare Lombroso in the 1870s to identify the bodily features of "egg-borne crimes." country".

The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island - Europe's Leading Tourist Destination

O’Ronnabhain explained: “Lombroso did a lot of autopsy, and he found a special variation in the skull that he thought was a sign of natural crime”. So far, of course, Lombroso's theories have all been contradicted by the scientific community.
But O’Donnabhain could not be sure that was exactly what Lombroso's group was doing on Spike Island.
When this prison closed in 1883, the island continued to be used with its original function as a military barracks. But from 1985 to 2004, it returned to its role as a prison.
When O’Donnabhain conducted research, he said that there were messages still lying on the beds. So, before the excavation began, his team recorded modern graffiti scribbled by 20th-century prisoners.
Pictures on the walls detail the prisoners nicknames, sentences, or hometowns.

The Terrifying Past Of Spike Island - Europe's Leading Tourist Destination

O’Donnabhain said these modern prisoners also stem from “social disadvantages” like criminals in the Victorian era.
"You will find they have something in common: the same poor people who end up in prison or those who come from disadvantaged social circumstances," he said.
By 2016, Spike Island was transformed into a sightseeing spot and opened to the public in 2016. Even in 2017, it was honored..

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