Carceral systems in Ireland were transformed by late 18th and early 19th century initiatives by the London government that saw the development of purpose-built prisons and significant changes in the ethos of the penal system. The new government prisons were put under severe pressure by the Great Irish Famine (1847-1852) and part of the state’s response was to open the country’s largest depot for male convicts at Spike Island. Prior to its closure in 1883 the depot was a holding centre for convicts transported to Bermuda, Gibraltar and Van Diemen’s Land and it played an important role in the development of the ‘Irish System’ that was to inform the development of the modern prison system internationally. A combination of archival, archaeological and bioarchaeological research provides a means of investigating daily life in the prison and the impact of the institution on the inmates. While at one level, Spike Island is an important site for the exploration of complex questions of inequality, race and empire, it is also a place that haunts our imaginations in the present and challenges us in how we tell tales of past injustices to modern audiences.