Cork’s Spike Island named Europe’s leading tourist attraction

Updated with confirmation of winner 10.05pm:

Cork’s Spike Island has been voted Europe’s leading tourist attraction for 2017.

Spike Island saw off competition in the World Travel Awards from the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Colosseum in Rome, the Guinness Storehouse and the Acropolis in Athens to scoop the award.

The Spike Island team collecting their award last night.

The World Travel Awards are dubbed the Oscars of the travel industry. They are voted for by travel and tourism professionals and business and leisure travel consumers worldwide.

Joining the team accepting the award in St Petersburg, Russia, Spike Island general manager John Crotty attributed the island’s success to its extensive history and the hard work of the staff.

He said: “A recurring feature of our feedback is the performance of our staff and guides whose enthusiasm really infects our visitors with its rich history. Our story is really only just beginning.”

Fortress Spike, which is located in Cork harbour and accessible by ferry from the town of Cobh, is the first Irish attraction outside of Dublin and Belfast to earn a nomination in the awards.

It is not however the first Irish winner of the award for Europe’s leading tourist attraction - Titanic Belfast won last year, and the Guinness Storehouse in 2015.

The Acropolis won in 2014, the Eiffel Tower in 2013 and the London Eye in 2012.

€6m worth of refurbishments have been carried out on the island in recent years. 2017 is the island’s first full year in operation. More than 45,000 people visited Spike this year , with a target of 100,000 visitors by 2020.

The full list of this year’s World Travel Award nominees for leading European tourist attraction was:

  • Acropolis, Athens, Greece;
  • Buckingham Palace, England
  • La Sagrada Familia, Spain
  • Mary Rose Museum, England
  • Passadiços do Paiva (Arouca UNESCO Global Geopark)
  • Ribeira do Porto, Portugal
  • Spike Island, Ireland
  • The Eiffel Tower, France
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy

Divisional manager of Cork County Council Declan Daly said: “Earlier this year Fortress Spike became Trip Advisor’s number one attraction in County Cork and now the island is Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction for 2017. This is especially rewarding considering we have so much more planned to ensure the very best experience for both our national and international visitors.”

Mayor of the County of Cork Cllr. Declan Hurley, who attended the awards ceremony in St Petersburg, Russia on Saturday evening said: “This award is recognition of the incredible dedication by a great number of people who foresaw the potential of Spike Island.

"I would like to make particular reference to the roles played by the Spike Steering Group, chaired by Mr. Brendan Tuohy, who helped guide the recent site investment and also to the retired County Manager, Mr. Martin Riordan, whose initiative in taking ownership of the island has yielded such vast rewards.”

Fortress Spike Island will now go forward to represent Europe at the Grand World Final, held on December 10 at Phu Quoc, Vietnam.

Spike Island’s story:

Spike Island has more than 1,300 years of history, which includes a 6th Century monastic settlement, the 9th Century Viking invasion, and a history of piracy and smuggling. Cromwellian soldiers held prisoners on the island in the 17th Century as the island saw its first use as a prison.

Construction of the 24 acre, 3000 capacity star shaped Fortress that still dominates the island began in the 1700s, as a means to protect Cork harbor from attack. The fort was converted into a prison in the 1800s, with inmate numbers swelling to more than 2,300 and including boys as young as 11 being held in appalling conditions. Spike became known in this period as “Ireland’s hell”.

The island was handed back to the Irish by the British in 1938 in a ceremony attended by Eamonn De Valera, one of the last areas of Ireland to be returned following independence. Winston Churchill strongly opposed the return as the threat of Nazi Germany grew in Europe, and he described Spike Island in Parliament as “the sentinel tower of the defenses of Western Europe”.

The island was to become a prison again in 1985. It was barely opened six months when a riot saw many of the fort’s buildings burned to the ground. Despite this, the prison remained until as recently as 2004 and finally after over 400 years of military and penal use, its doors are now open to the public.

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