Historian says the almost forgotten underground facility could be a major draw for tourists.
APLEA has been made to open up “a forgotten” underground prison built in a Co Cork town during the Famine which housed tens of thousands of prisoners, including many children under 12.
The formerly named Queenstown Bridewell Prison in Cobh, was opened in 1845, but forgotten by generations until its existence re-emerged in 1992 when it was discovered after a “sink hole” opened up on the public road outside St Coleman’s Cathedral.
The council quickly covered it up, but a local historian, who is also a tour guide on Spike Island, believes it should be opened to the public as “it’s another gem in the area’s historic association with incarceration and deportation which can prove to be a major attraction to tourists”.
John Flynn said that after the sink hole opened some who went down into the jail found an intact table and lamp among 10 well-preserved cells, two recreation rooms and exercise area.
“It opened in 1845 and closed in 1895. It was primarily for men and women and tens of thousands were incarcerated there during this period. Between 1880 and 1895 records I have acquired from Southampton University show more than 2,000 children were also held there. Many of them were under 12,” said Mr Flynn.
Because the prison is under the Cathedral car park and the main road, he is seeking cooperation between the Catholic Church authorities and the county council to open it to the public.
The cathedral was built in 1868 and when the car park was extended later the ground floor area of the jail was demolished, but the cells remained intact underneath.
Mr Flynn said that in 2014 he got co-operation from the Church to acknowledge its presence and they erected a memorial stone to commemorate its existence, which was co-funded by church authorities and the county council.
Mystery remains about what happened to the convicts between 1845 and 1847 when the massive prison was opened on Spike Island, which was in part used as a transit point for transportation, mainly to Australia.
Mr Flynn said he’s still trying to research the two intervening years, but believes many incarcerated there in that time were also transported to British colonies.
“I believe it was a kind of major holding cell. Some [convicts] were probably sent off to permanent prisons. But it’s quite possible lots ended up deported to Australia as well,” he said.
In recent weeks he has sent down fibre-optic cameras into the prison. Mr Flynn said the footage shows the underground prison to be in very good condition and in his opinion it would take little to do up and open it to the public.
“It would really fit in nicely with the Spike Island concept of the convict years and transportation,” said Mr Flynn, who mentions it in a tour when he takes visitors around Cobh.