‘The Handover Of Spike Island’ exhibition at Spike Island launched this week, commemorating the 85th anniversary of the handover of the Treaty Ports from Britain to Ireland. Photo: Jed Niezgoda

A small island with a huge history

A new exhibition has been launched on Spike Island commemorating the 85th anniversary of the handover of the Treaty Ports from Britain to Ireland.

The exhibition, ‘The Handover of Spike Island’, features a newly added collection of original artefacts donated by Fionnghuala Smith and her family, shedding light on the story of Daniel Cusack, a seaman from Spike Island and on the events of July 11 1938.

Unveiling a treasure trove of original documents, photographs, and artefacts, the exhibition invites visitors to explore the history surrounding the 1938 handover.

The collection, on public display for the first time, enables a unique glimpse into the past and highlights the pivotal role of Spike Island during the historic handover event.

Commenting on the exhibition, Spike Island Museum Curator, Dorota Gubbins, said: “Curating this exhibition has been fascinating and such a rewarding experience.

“The 1938 Handover is such a significant date in the history of not only Spike Island but the surrounding harbour and the entire island of Ireland.

“Visitors to the island will be able to view a new collection of never before seen artefacts which tell the story of this momentous occasion.”

At the heart of the collection is a document dated 11 July 1938, believed to be the first official record signed by the Irish authority at Spike Island. The piece provides an authentic insight into the administrative processes surrounding the handover.

One of the exhibition's more unique artefacts is a personal eyewitness account of the handover, written just moments after the ceremony. Donated to the curatorial staff at Spike Island in 2017, the account provides an intimate perspective on the historic event. In honour of the 85th anniversary, the Spike Island team has created a video based on the contents of the letter, offering visitors a chance to relive the excitement that filled Cobh and Cork Harbour on the monumental day.

In addition, visitors can view the list of officers and enlisted men who arrived at Spike Island on 11 July 1938, made available by the Spike Island Volunteer Group. The rare document provides insight into the personnel involved in the handover and adds another layer of historical significance to the exhibition.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the display of the national flag, believed to be the original Tricolour raised during the 1938 Handover. The symbolic artefact, donated by Tom Kelly of Cobh in 2018, serves as a poignant symbol of the historic occasion.

Ms Gubbins continued: “This exhibition would not have been possible without Fionnghuala Smith and her family who kindly donated artefacts belonging to her grandfather Daniel Cusack. This collection sheds light on his story, and all those involved in the significant event.”

Spike Island will continue its 85th anniversary commemorations this Saturday evening with its annual Independence celebration and fireworks display which is set to light up Cork Harbour once again. A total of 1,300 fireworks will illuminate the sky, symbolising the inmates who tragically lost their lives during Spike Island's history as a prison.

‘The Handover of Spike Island’ exhibition will be open to visitors at Mitchel Hall until 30 September 2023.