The Spike Island Male Convict Depot opened in 1847 at the height of the Great Famine in Ireland as part of the colonial government’s response to the rise in ‘criminality’ that accompanied mass starvation. The site has a global reach, not just because it was an embarkation point in the transportation of convicts around the world but also because of its critical role in the emergence of the 'Irish System' that was to influence the development of modern prison systems internationally. Archaeology has shed light on the quotidian in the Victorian Convict Depot that closed in 1883: from artefactual evidence of coping strategies adopted by convicts to bioarchaeological evidence of the impact of institutionalisation on their bodies. The island became a prison again in 1985 and has become a heritage destination since the closure of this institution in 2004. Heritage tourism narratives contrast the two regimes, highlighting the injustice that lay at the heart of the Victorian regime but shying away from discussion of the roles that social exclusion, inequality and race continue to play in determining who is imprisoned today. The archaeology of 19th century incarceration begs uncomfortable questions about the carceral regimes of the present.