The Bone-Chilling Haunted History of Ireland’s Spike Island

The “Destination Fear” crew spent 14 terrifying hours alone on an abandoned Irish prison island with human occupation dating back 1,300 years.

Chelsea Laden is on a bed in a haunted room at Spike Island. She is wearing ripped jeans and sneakers. She has a shocked look on her face. Inset is an aerial view of the island.

Chelsea Laden from "Destination Fear" at the haunted Spike Island in County Cork, Ireland

Photo by: Discovery [screenshot from TRVL's "Destination Fear"]; Carrigphotos via Getty [inset]

Discovery [screenshot from TRVL's "Destination Fear"]; Carrigphotos via Getty [inset]

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Deemed to be “1000 times worse than Alcatraz,” the prison at Spike Island in County Cork, Ireland has a long, varied history dating back to the monastery erected on the island in 635 AD.

In the 12th century, a Catholic church was built on Spike Island. However, in the 18th century, the monastic setting was turned into a prison where inmates were kept as recently as 2004.

In the mid-1800s, the 104-acre island prison became the last stop before criminals were sent by boat to Australia or the Caribbean. Prisoners regularly died on Spike Island due to malnourishment, hard labor, torture, and suicide. The hard labor included building the star-shaped fort still standing in the center of the island today.

Conditions at the prison worsened with the construction of the notorious “punishment block” in 1860, built after three prisoners murdered one of the guards. This cell block was for the most violent prisoners. Inmates sent there were chained to the walls by their necks, and their heads were covered by a black hood. Paranormal investigators have reported capturing electronic voice phenomena that taunt and mock them when they spend time in the punishment block.

Lingering Spirits

Centuries of history and horror have left their mark on the prison, which is now a tourist destination. In the 1980s, members of Ireland’s navy who were stationed on the island reported seeing dark figures standing over their bunks. During a recent investigation, the inn’s manager told the “Destination Fear” crew that he feels a lot of tension in cells where a violent prison riot took place in 1985. Armed with knives, inmates were able to overpower the guards and take control of the island. Several of the buildings were burned.

Visitors to the island have reported hearing phantom gunshots, believed to be left behind from a British occupation. Other tourists have seen a soldier dressed in an old fashioned uniform sitting in front of a fireplace. In 2018, a visitor on a Halloween ghost tour snapped a photo with the apparition of a man standing in one of the long corridors.

The prison was home to several notorious Irish prisoners. Martin Cahill, a Dublin gangster, served time at Spike Island for the only crime authorities could prove he committed—breaching the peace. Believed to have a slew of robberies and art heists under his belt, Cahill earned the reputation as an Irish Al Capone.

The “Destination Fear” team called out to Cahill during their investigation. The answer they received may surprise you.

You can watch every episode of “Destination Fear” now on discovery+.

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