Spike Island: “Ireland’s Alcatraz”

I’ve been going a bit stir crazy this week. You know, home alone with two rowdy (and sick) little boys while Daddy is away on business and it decides to rain all week so we can’t leave our house to DO anything. Bleh. So when we got a break in the weather this weekend, I seized my opportunity and packed the boys into the car for “an adventure” (this is what I call all of the crazy things I make my children do with me so they’ll think they are fun and worthwhile ventures).

My “Plan A” was to go to this place I’d read about called Mizen Head. It is the southern-most point in Ireland and it’s got this really cool suspension bridge out to a lighthouse. And, it’s in the same county we live in so I thought, Hey–we’ll just hop on over there this morning! But when I punched in my destination to my GPS and it came back at 2 hours 26 minutes, I decided I wasn’t up for a hop quite that long.

Plan B: Spike Island.

I’d also been wanting to go out to this place called Spike Island, also known as “Ireland’s Alcatraz”. As part of it’s colorful past, this island was a sort of prison purgatory for criminals awaiting transport on prison ships to Australia or Tasmania (at times throughout history it was also used as a monastery, a smuggler’s cove and a naval fort) . Plus, it was only 20 minutes from our house. That’s the kind of hop I could do. We drove down to a town called Cobh where boats ferry visitors out to Spike Island. We got there at the crack-o-the-Irish-dawn (10:00) so, naturally, the place was deserted. The kiosk that sells boat tickets out to the island had a handwritten sign stating that the first tour of the day would be at 12:00. Hmmmmm….

As I was contemplating what Plan C might be, I noticed a group of people walking down the pier toward the docked boats. Perhaps, I thought, there is an early bird boat after all! I whipped the boys out of the car and ran down the pier after the other tourists to see if I could catch whatever boat they were taking. When we got to the boat, the captain was standing on the pier helping passengers aboard. At this point, quick observation of the scene told me that I was probably in the wrong place. Every person boarding that boat had silver hair and a Canon SLR the size of an actual cannon. And none of them had tickets. When I asked the captain how I could purchase our tickets, he simply stated that this was a private tour, but I could board “for a bit of charity”. While I smiled knowingly and racked my brain for what “a bit of charity” might mean, I noticed another rogue passenger slip the captain a 20 and climb on board. Ahhhhh…charity. 

“Oh, yes, I have money. Hold on a sec.” (Tell David to NOT MOVE ONE INCH CLOSER TO THAT WATER, take the baby backpack off, rifle around in the backpack for my wallet…keep searching…I know it’s in here somewhere…Ah! Found it! Open the wallet. See that there’s no money. Tell the captain that he can have all of my change. Proceed to empty a bunch of loose coins into the confused captain’s hand. Smile sheepishly. Put baby backpack back on. Get David out of the water. Climb on the boat.)

Once we stowaways were safely aboard the vessel, it was actually a really nice ride out to the island. As we were pulling away from Cobh, we passed the Titanic museum and the pier where the last passengers departed for Titanic over 100 years ago. 126 passengers boarded from this pier in Cobh, but only 44 of them survived. Kind of crazy to think about. IMG_3845 Thankfully, we had a much less eventful boat ride than those poor Titanic passengers. We were able to sit inside the boat (good, because it was windy and COLD out there!) and it was a quick 10-minute trip across the water to Spike Island. IMG_3814 Once on the island, we had a great time exploring. We threw rocks into the ocean (David’s request): IMG_3821 And we spent about 3 hours walking around the island (my request): IMG_3828 We saw the remains of some army barracks and old buildings (built in the 1700’s): IMG_3825 The old Navy fort (built in the 1800’s): IMG_3835 IMG_3842 And some more modern prison cells (built in the 1900’s). I told David that this is where I’d send him if he left his Legos lying around for me to trip on again. IMG_3837 We rounded out the day with some sand castles on the beach before we boarded our boat for the return trip back to our car: IMG_3843 Things didn’t all go as planned, but they rarely do. And sometimes, the best memories are made when our plans go out the window. Here’s to a future of ruined plans and many more great memories to come!

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