Ireland - Spike Island


This field school is part of a research project that examines the archaeology of the 19th century prison on Spike Island, Ireland’s Alcatraz. 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. The architecture of many of the purpose-built prisons from this period reflects new ideas about the redemptive nature of isolation, discipline and work. The physical isolation of prisoners was not possible on Spike Island which was an early 19th century fortress that was converted to a prison in 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. The prison was tied into the global reach of the British imperial system of power as in the early years of its operation, it was one of the main holding centers for Irish convicts transported to Australia and to Bermuda.  In the 2014 season, our principal focus will be on the convict burial ground and the bioarchaeology of the inmates who died at Spike Island. 

Ireland Spike Island Archaeology Field School - Institute for Field Research Field Schools Ireland - Spike Island18-352014-06-20
Course Dates: Jun 29 - Aug 2 2014
Enrollment Status: CLOSED 
Total Cost: $ 5,150 
Course Type: Field Archaeology
Instructor: Dr. Barra O’Donnabhain

Course Syllabus 


Barra  O’Donnabhain

Dr. Barra O’Donnabhain

Dr. O’Donnabhain ( is a Bioarchaeologist and Lecturer at the Department of Archaeology, University College Cork (Ireland).  For more information, click here.


"The Spike Island program was such a wonderful experience! I was instantly drawn in due to the interesting history of Spike Island itself and the program’s involvement with bioarchaeology.  I knew by attending a field school program I would learn archaeological field methods, but I couldn't imagine a better educational experience than I was given by the director and supervisors on Spike.  They were very helpful and clearly loved what they were doing, making the learning experience for us that much easier to understand and truly enjoyable. It was fantastic in the sense that we got to do a variety of things in the field each day, in order to make sure we experienced doing each method.  I learned so much about Ireland's history in relation to Spike Island and about field work in archaeology. Spike Island was a wonderful opportunity and I hope others will have as great an experience as I did."

-Kellen Hope, Emory University (2013)

"In the Summer of 2013 I was a participant in the Spike Island Archaeological Project. My aim was to put into practice what I had learned as an undergraduate student and get hands on experience in the field. The excavations on Spike certainly fulfilled all my expectations. Spike is truly a unique site, located as it is on an abandoned prison island in Cork Harbour. Despite its island location, the accommodation and facilities were of a high standard, and the local council ensured we had everything we needed. Dr. O’Donnabhain’s enthusiasm was infectious and there was a great sense of teamwork among the 30-strong team, which quickly became a 30-strong group of friends. The excavations provided a range of experience not often found on a single site. This included excavations in old prison buildings, open fields and a 19th century cemetery. The bioarchaeology aspect was of particular interest to me personally, and I was afforded ample opportunity to excavate the human remains we discovered. The finds included the human skeletal remains, vast quantities of metal, glass and pottery, along with some military equipment (thankfully not live!). The exploration of the archaeology of Spike Island has only just commenced and future excavation seasons promise many more great finds."

-Kevin Higgins, University College Cork (2013)

"Attending the Spike Island field school allowed me to gain countless memorable experiences. When I was first looking at field schools, Spike Island stood out in regards to its unique location and focus on bioarchaeology. Besides studying human remains, I learned many important field methods due to the instruction and teaching of the director and supervisors. The accommodations on the island were wonderful and it allowed everyone to get to know one another. The county council and the staff on site were always helpful and made sure we were comfortable. Beyond learning techniques we can apply, we also built friendships that we will have forever. In the field, we excavated in prison building and the 19th century graveyard, along with analyzing graffiti from the recent prison. We were able to find pottery, glass, human skeletal remains, buttons from clothing, and many more artifacts. I cam out the this field school field more confident in my archaeological knowledge and my own abilities. I enjoyed it so much I did not want to leave. Spike Island is great opportunity and learning experience that still has many exciting field seasons ahead."

-Sydney Schueller, UCLA (2013)

"I chose to go to Spike Island because it seemed like an amazing location and experience for a dig.  And in that regard it exceeded all of my expectations.  I got to participate in a once in a lifetime experience I'll never forget, and that will no doubt have a profoundly positive effect on me.  For an archaeological excavation, it was an extremely effective program taught by a highly-qualified and very experienced staff with an obvious passion for the field as well as teaching.  I learned more than I could have expected from a very intensive but completely rewarding excavation.  I feel very confident about the techniques and tools I was trained in while on Spike Island, as well as their application in the field of archaeology and anywhere else.  Not only that, but I met a great group of people I'm very happy to call my friends.  An added bonus was having such an interesting conversation starter on my resume when applying for jobs after school.  I don't know anyone with a similar experience, and that unique set of applicable skills definitely helped me stand out."

Henry Boyd, Boston University (2013)




Student Fees

Early Enrollment Begins November 15 - Full payment must be received by April 1  
(Full Payment = Deposit + Tuition)
 Payment by Cashier or Personal Check Payment by Credit Card/Debit Card
Deposit:500 USD Deposit: 510 USD 
Tuition: 4,650 USD Tuition: 4,740 USD 

Late Enrollment Begins April 2 - Full payment must be received 10 days prior to course start date
(Full Payment = Deposit + Tuition)
 Payment by Cashier or Personal Check Payment by Credit Card/Debit Card
Deposit:500 USD Deposit: 510 USD 
Tuition: 4,750 USD Tuition: 4,840 USD 


Field School accommodation will be in the fort on Spike Island.  Spike is a small, uninhabited island in Cork Harbor.  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 harbor from the town of Cobh.  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: our accommodation is on the upper floor of the rectangular block in the lower right corner of the fort).  The island does not have a resident population so we will be the only people there at night.   

MEALS:  All meals will be communal events at the project dining area.  Meals will be catered to the island from mainland restaurants/caterer.  All meals are provided from Monday to Friday and students look after their own meals at weekends.  Specialized diets (vegan, kosher, gluten-free, etc.) may be impossible to satisfy in this location.