A new ferry has been launched to Spike Island in Cork harbour to coincide with the opening of major new exhibition, and it's hoped these will lead to a significant boost in visitor numbers.
The ferry, named after the island, can accommodate 126 passengers and will be operated by Doyle Shipping.
It was officially launched today, to coincide with the 81st anniversary of the British handover of the 'Treaty Ports,' which included Spike Island.
It will run alongside the existing ferry, ‘Bryan J’, which can carry 80 passengers, and thus increase the throughput of tourists to the 104-acre island.
Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan performed the ceremonial pouring champagne on the bow.
"As well as providing for longer stays for day-trippers to the island, the extra capacity also opens up the potential for the island to hold large scale events in the near future," Cork County Council divisional manager Declan Daly said.
Doyle Shipping has carried passengers to the island for the past 60 years. They have included army and navy officers, sitting Taoiseach, and famous criminals like Martin Cahill.
Spike Island manager John Crotty said new walking trails had been developed on the island as an additional attraction and new, wheelchair accessible pontoon had just opened in Cobh.
He said he is sure the ‘Independence’ exhibition, focusing on IRA men interned there in 1921, will "massively add to the experience for visitors and help us grow and secure our future".
The impressive exhibition is the culmination of five years of research by author and historian Tom O’Neill, who is Spike island's assistant manager.
It tells the story of the Irish road to freedom and of the 1,400 IRA men, or suspected IRA members, interned there by the British.
Beginning in 1914 and the outbreak of World War One, the exhibition details how Ireland sought to take advantage of British distraction and includes footage and the story of the failed 1916 Rising.
Visitors can ‘stand trial’ as one of 14 Irishmen accused of crimes during the War of Independence, including ‘levying war again the King'.
There were some famous prisoners held on the island like Sean Collins, brother of Michael Collins, who was part of a successful escape attempt. But not all were so lucky. Clareman Patrick White died after been shot by a British soldier as he went to retrieve a sliotar that had gone out of bounds.
The exhibition includes original footage, and artefacts made by the men who stayed there, including autograph books and diaries. Medals won by some of the internees have been donated and visitors can read the poems and songs the men wrote as they shared time on the island.
There is also a genealogy room which allows visitors to search for the details of those held here, by county, family name and trial details. Visitors can also print the interment order of the men.