Work and discoveries made on Spike Island is now a documentary online

A few months ago we wrote on this blog about the recent discoveries made by archaeologists on Spike Island during the summer. Now thanks to a special collaboration between the Irish Examiner and University College Cork a documentary covering the work and exploits of the archaeological crew can be seen online on the Irish examiner website

The multimedia piece available to watch online, will feature a five-part series recording the work done by the Spike Island Archaeological Project on Spike Island in the summer. The Project was focused on exploring a brutal 36-year period from 1847 until 1883 when the island, which lies in East Cork (not far from Fota Island), in Cork Harbour was used as a prison depot for convicts bound for the penal colonies of Australia, Bermuda and beyond. As part of their research on Spike Island a team of 23 student archaeologists all drawn from UCC and various universities in North America spent the summer on-site in the former East Cork penal colony, to figure what life was really like for the unlucky convicts, even going so far as sampling the typical 19th century prison diet.

The project which was led by UCC archaeologist, Dr Barra Ó Donnabháin, aimed to give a voice to the convicts who were incarcerated and the 1,100 who died in the prison during the Victorian era. During the year they highlighted for the first time the full extent of a convicts’ mass grave on the island, identifying up to 250 previously unmarked burial plots, all dating from Famine times, within a walled cemetery area on Spike.

The entire project was filmed by UCC cameraman Stephen Bean and the 5 episodes shown exclusively on and reveals many things. Firstly and fore mostly it brings to light what life was like for the unfortunate men and boys incarcerated there in the 19th century. Secondly it shows what the project entailed for the archaeological students involved in the research many of whom sampled 19th century prison life. And thirdly it also shows for the first time evidence of the mass burial sites unearthed on the former penal colony.

The series the first multi-media collaboration between the independent newspaper and UCC looks set to bring the unique history of the island to a new modern audience. Making sure that the island having shed its gritty past is now enjoyed and remembered as a national monument and important heritage site set in the scenic settings of Cork Harbour opposite the heritage town of Cobh.


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