Topic ID #37726 - posted 12/1/2016 4:11 PM

Ireland: Spike Island Field School 2018


Project Overview

This field school is part of a larger research project that examines the development of modern prison systems through the study of the archaeology of the 19th century prison on Spike Island, Ireland’s Alcatraz.  Strategically located at the mouth of Cork Harbour, the island was a military and naval base for over 200 years and is the site of the largest fortress in Ireland.  For 36 years from 1847, the fort was used as a convict prison, initially as a crisis response to Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1852).  Dealing with criminals by means of long-term incarceration is a relatively recent development.  In Ireland and Britain, long-term confinement only became the dominant means of punishment and social control in the mid-19th century.  Globally, that century was a critical period for the development of the modern prison with considerable innovation and experimentation in punishment regimes.  At the first International Penitentiary Congresses in the 1870s, the ‘Irish System’, was seen as a role model for other world areas and Spike Island had played a critical role in the development of this approach.  The island was also a major point of embarkation transportation to Australia where convicts became part of an extraordinarily effect project in social engineering, providing the labour and population of new colonies.

This will be the sixth season of excavations of the Spike Island Archaeological Project.  The island is uninhabited but is visited by hundreds of tourists daily during the summer with hourly boats making the 1km journey to the nearby town of Cobh.  The staff and students of the project live on the island in youth hostel-style accommodation in a modern and comfortable building.

The 2018 field school will investigate deposits in the Victorian prison buildings while also exploring the convict cemetery.  It provides students with the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in a unique location and to gain practical experience in excavation, bioarchaeology and historical archaeology at a site of global significance.

Program Director: Dr. Barra O'Donnabhain   
Course Dates: June 17-July 21, 2018
Application Deadline: April 20, 2018
Tuition: $4,175
Credit: 8 semester credit units 

Accommodations: Field School accommodation will be in the fort on Spike Island. Spike is a small, uninhabited island in Cork Harbour. While there is no resident population on the island, it is not an isolated place: it is only 500m from land in one direction and 1500m across the harbour from the town of Cobh. Archaeology indicates human activity in the harbour back into early prehistory while Spike is recorded as the location of a monastic site in the early medieval period (AD 500-1,000). Due to its strategic location facing the entrance to the harbour, the island was transformed during the Napoleonic Wars when, in response to fears of a French invasion, a gun battery and later a star-shaped fort were built. The latter and its ramparts occupy about 70% of the island’s surface.   The island remained as a naval and military installation for 200 years, from 1804 to 2004. When most of Ireland became independent in 1922, Britain retained Spike and the neighbouring island of Haulbowline until 1938 when they were ceded to Ireland. While both the British and later the Irish army and navy had small military prisons at Spike, the fort has been used as a civilian prison twice in its history. The first of these (1847-1883) is the focus of our research while the 20th century prison provides us with our accommodation! From 1985 to 2004, Spike Island housed a modern prison and we will be housed in the administration block of this jail (do a Google maps search for Spike Island, Cork, satellite view: our accommodation is on the upper floor of two of the rectangular blocks in the right corner of the fort). The island does not have a resident population so we will be the only people there at night. Tourists visit the site during the day.
Living Arrangements
The accommodation on the island consists of bedrooms, a common room and kitchen. The rooms will be shared. There will be separate rooms for male and females students. There are separate male and female toilets on the corridor while hot showers are in an adjacent building. There will be a bed for each team member and you will need to bring your own sleeping bag and towels (see What to Pack for a checklist of items you need to bring). All meals are provided from Monday to Friday (students look after their own meals at weekends).

For further information visit Program Page:


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