‘Alcatraz of Ireland’ is named Europe’s best attraction

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A former prison in south-west Ireland has been crowned Europe’s best tourist attraction.

Despite being little-known to those outside of Cork, the historic Spike Island was declared the ultimate visitor experience at the World Travel Awards on Sunday.

Given the accolade at a ceremony in St.Petersburg, Russia, the venue’s unexpected win saw it triumph over Rome’s Colosseum, Paris’s Eiffel Tower and London’s Buckingham Palace.

Historic: Spike Island, which began life as a monastery, housed prisoners until as late as 2004

Historic: Spike Island, which began life as a monastery, housed prisoners until as late as 2004

Historic: Spike Island, which began life as a monastery, housed prisoners until as late as 2004

But, like them all, it has an intriguing history. Back in the sixth century it began life as a monastic site, before morphing into a military base in the 18th century.

By the mid 1800s it was transformed into a 24 acre fortress for convicts who were destined for a banished life in Australia.

Most recently, however, it served 2,300 domestic prisoners, who were housed there until 2004, when the star-shaped jail was eventually abandoned.

More than a decade later, in 2016, it was re-opened following a major £4.8 million redevelopment after local officials deemed culturally historic. 

Dubbed the ‘Alcatraz of Ireland’, it’s so-called because it can only be accessed by a boat from Cobh on Cork’s Harbour. 

Banished: By the mid 1800s it was transformed into a 24 acre fortress for convicts who were destined for a banished life in Australia

Brave: Today, the venue offers nocturnal tours to guests, who can sit in a solitary cell

Brave: Today, the venue offers nocturnal tours to guests, who can sit in a solitary cell

Brave: Today, the venue offers nocturnal tours to guests, who can sit in a solitary cell

Remote: Dubbed the 'Alcatraz of Ireland', it's so-called because it can only be accessed by a boat from Cobh on Cork's Harbour

Remote: Dubbed the 'Alcatraz of Ireland', it's so-called because it can only be accessed by a boat from Cobh on Cork's Harbour

Remote: Dubbed the ‘Alcatraz of Ireland’, it’s so-called because it can only be accessed by a boat from Cobh on Cork’s Harbour

Today, the venue offers nocturnal tours to brave guests, who can sit in a solitary cell and experience a specially-built punishment block once called ‘Ireland’s hell’.

It consisted of twenty eight solitary confinement cells and housed the ‘Penal Class’, considered the most dangerous prisoners. 

They were heavily chained and clothed in black from head to toe, with a veil hiding all but their eyes. 

As it was: A military bastion under construction at Spike Island, Cork Harbour, in 1860

As it was: A military bastion under construction at Spike Island, Cork Harbour, in 1860

As it was: A military bastion under construction at Spike Island, Cork Harbour, in 1860

Heritage: An aerial view of the site when it was a military station for personnel based on Cobh

Heritage: An aerial view of the site when it was a military station for personnel based on Cobh

Heritage: An aerial view of the site when it was a military station for personnel based on Cobh

Not that this is the first time Ireland has succeeded at the World Travel Awards. 

Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse and the Titanic Belfast museum were named Best Tourist Attraction in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Meanwhile, this year’s ceremony saw Portugal crowned Europe’s Leading Destination, Geneva branded Europe’s Leading City Break and the event’s host city, St. Petersburg, named Europe’s Leading City Destination.

Together, they will now compete in their respective categories at the WTA’s Grand World Final in Phu Quoc, Vietnam, in December. 

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