THE former Spike Island prison is aiming to become one of Ireland's top tourist attractions within five years.
It is hoped that a €40m plan to turn Spike Island into Ireland's own 'Alcatraz' will create up to 200 jobs and welcome 250,000 visitors annually.
Cork County Council is examining a plan by consultants Scott Tallon Walker, which envisages Spike enjoying the same appeal as other former prison islands worldwide including Alcatraz (San Francisco), Robben Island (South Africa), Port Arthur (Tasmania) and Grosse Ile ( Canada).
The council, which secured the island from the Department of Justice in 2010, has already been impressed by the reaction to walking tours of Spike Island.
Cobh historian Dr Michael Martin said the tours were now rivalling the popularity of his Titanic walking tours which have become world-famous.
This year, he had an estimated 10,000 walkers on his tour.
However, it is hoped that when the island is fully developed, it will host 250,000 visitors annually.
The report from Scott Tallon Walker estimates that the prison island could generate more than €35m each year for the Cork harbour economy if properly developed.
"The proposed new visitor experiences at Spike Island will create an iconic attraction that will significantly raise Cork's status and appeal as a tourist destination," the report said.
"The attraction will drive tourist traffic to the harbour and, in doing so, will impact positively on the level of tourism activity in Cork city, in Cobh and in other locations."
It is understood the €40m would come largely from Failte Ireland – with lesser funding from the Department of Tourism and other regional development grants.
However, locals are worried that attempts to improve access to the island, in particular a new pedestrian causeway, could damage their own economy.
Cobh locals are worried that such a bridge will cost them vital tourism earnings in the long term by effectively having visitors bypass their historic town.
Cobh is the main gateway for Spike Island with access currently only possible via boat.
Cork county manager, Martin Riordan, warned that people should not put the cart before the horse and that the €40m redevelopment of the island should be the primary focus.
Spike controversially closed as a prison eight years ago after then-Justice Minister Michael McDowell cited unacceptably high access and maintenance costs. It had only been refurbished as a modern prison in 1985 after being a Defence Forces base for 60 years.