The Document of the Month for July is the Ceremonial Order for the handover of Spike Island by the British, which happened 75 years ago today, on the 11th July 1938. The order is contained in the "Coastal Artillery Defence (CDA)" Collection. Spike island was one of the Treaty Forts which had been retained by Britain under one of the special clauses of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Once the details of the handover were decided in a series of meetings between Irish and British representatives from may 1938 onwards, the historic date was set.
Spike Island itself had already had quite a long and varied history up to this point, with the first mention of its status as a 'Holy Isle' in the 7th century coming from Cardinal Moren's edition of "Archdall's Monastican Hibernicum". Saint Mochuada (or Carthage) was granted lands including Spike Island after curing Cathal, the King of Munster. He built a monastery on the island, living on it for one year, and it was subsequently known as a holy site.
There is little further record of the island up until the 12th century, which was probably due to the disappearance of the Monastery (perhaps a victim of one of the many raids by the Danes in the area). There was, however, still a church on the island, suggesting that it was still regarded as a holy site.
Following on from this, the island was mostly owned by various landed families throughout the years until it remained uninhabited for a time in the mid 18th century and gained notoriety as a landing place for smugglers. It became British Government property as concerns grew over the possibility of invasion by the French and a battery of twenty one 24 pounder guns was completed by July 1779. Military development of the island continued apace, where the Fort being built there was named after the Earl of Westmoreland and the Barracks was completed later in 1806.
In 1847, Spike Island first became a depot for convicts, with room for 2000 ‘guests’. Irish patriots such as John Mitchel were temporarily held there, while in later years convicts were sent there for hard labour, working on the extension of the fortifications. The convicts were withdrawn in 1883 and the island came under full military control from then on. Its main function all the way up to 1938 was as the British Headquarters for the South Irish Coast Defences (S.I.C.D.).
Prior to the handover, the Fort was occupied by the 8th Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, S.I.C.D. and the advance Irish Defence Forces party arrived on the 6th July 1938. The main body arrived on the 11th July, with the first ceremony taking place at 18.10 hours. Major P. Maher, Director of Artillery, took formal possession on behalf of the Irish Government from Lieutenant Colonel R.H.A.D. Love, Royal Artillery, Officer Commanding S.I.C.D. The British Forces marched down to the pier, headed by the Army No. 2 Band, and boarded the S.S. Saorstát, later transferring to the M.V. “Innisfallen” en route to England.
An Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera, accompanied by various Ministers and senior Officers, arrived on the island at 19.40 hours and raised the Tricolour on the main mast at 20.00 hours, thus completing the handover of Spike to Irish control.
To view the Ceremonial Order in Full, please click here
To view images of Spike island on our flickr site, please click here