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Must See Places in Ireland: Kinsale
It is now over five years ago that we reinvented our life by moving from Colorado in the United States to Kinsale, County Cork Ireland. Although it is not easy to relocate halfway around the world, we believe it is the best possible thing we could have done for our lives. Like many expats we may be more in love with our adopted home than people who have grown up here. Ireland is full of historic sites, and Kinsale has a number of them. Although there are many places to go in Ireland, we believe that Kinsale has so many charming shades that everyone should stay here, at least a few days. This article is a series about the “must see places in Ireland,” and is intended for people traveling in Ireland, whether they are visiting or those who have lived here for a lifetime. .
Kinsale is a medieval village combined with a sailing community, and has all the great qualities of both. Part of the reason why we chose to move here is its cosmopolitan nature whilst nestled in a small village with historical significance. Just over 600 years ago, Kinsale was the site of a major battle between English soldiers and the Spanish Armada which was recruited by the Irish in their fight to stop the English taking over their country. Due to its location on the Bandon Estuary and the sea, Kinsale grew with the importance of water transport until the 18th century. Kinsale reinvented itself in the 1970s to embrace tourism as a major part of the economy, and with it came the renovation of the older buildings and the emphasis on Kinsale as the culinary capital of Ireland.
There are three major historic sites in Kinsale or within a short walk out of town: Charles Fort, James Fort, and Desmond Castle.
The Irish were not successful in the battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the English responded after the battle by building two forts, both worth seeing for completely different reasons. Charles Fort dominates the west side of the river estuary and the visitor can get there by taking a lovely walk by the water which then winds through Summercove and on to the fort. Full of historical content, the fort is worth an hour or more of walking around and seeing its various buildings while enjoying the scenery. English soldiers lived in Charles Fort until 1922 when they pulled out of Ireland. Hippies in the 1960s made it their home and now finally, thanks to the diligence of the Office of Public Works, it is being restored and is now the site of art shows and musical performances.
James Fort is our favorite walk with the dogs. You go out of town keeping the water on your left, go over the bridge, and then back down the road again with the water on your left until you reach the Dock pub. Signs direct you to the beach, and at the far end go up a narrow path that opens up into a large green expanse. The fort can be reached by taking the footpath to the top of the hill and looking for the gap in the rows of hedgerows that drop down beyond it to a path that continues to the right. In the 5+ years we have lived here the OPW has done a lot to improve the fort, although it is only open to the public during history week in August. Nevertheless, the entire slope is worth seeing. Continuing around the top of the hill and then following a path with hedges on both sides takes you to a round stone structure that overlooks the river. There are two places, one on the Kinsale side and one on the seafront where visitors can go down to the rocks and sea, and some of the best pictures of the area can be taken from here.
Desmond Castle was built in 1500 and is considered a fine example of an urban tower house. Billed as a customs house for the times it consists of a three level structure with storerooms at the rear. Desmond Castle also served as a French prison in the 18th century, an Ordnance house or national survey centre, and a workhouse during the great famine between 1845 and 1852. It is now an international wine museum and tells the story of the Irish Winegee, the Irish people who are now involved in winemaking around the world.
Shopping and Food
Kinsale is also where visitors can easily spend an afternoon or two meandering through the charming shops and picking up clothes and gifts. Hamish Hawkin, and Granny’s Bottom Drawer are two of our favorites for their quality and unusual wares.
Likewise, Kinsale is the culinary capital of Ireland and no matter what kind of food you fancy, there will be a restaurant that can give it to you. Surprisingly for a town of this size, many restaurants are of five star quality and deserve attention. Max’s Wine Bar, Crackpots, the Blue Haven, Fishy Fishy and the White House each serve a different type of venue and all are excellent. If you want a quick cup of coffee or perhaps a cappuccino with lunch we recommend Tom’s Bakery, The Lemon Tree, the Blue Haven or Cucina’s.
The best value for the most interesting food, day or night, can be found from April to December at Diva Boutique Cafe in Ballinspittle. If you are traveling out of Kinsale towards Garrettstown Beach or on to Timoleague (a journey which is the subject of another article in this series) the cafe will be on your right as you turn into Ballinspittle. If you go to Diva for dinner you can bring your own bottle of wine to accompany your meal.
There are also many excellent pubs in the town, often with traditional music venues, jazz following, or other forms of entertainment. Any visitor looking for the traditional look and feel of an Irish pub should be sure to check out the Tap Tavern. Across the street and down a little to the left of our flat is distillery number two, and on the same side of Eglwys St. Multose, the Tap is the home of Kinsale’s rampart players theater group and the starting point of the famous Ghost Walk.
Kinsale is a great place to spend a few days at home taking day trips out to see other interesting sites in the area. The signature book in our flat is full of great stories and comments, testimonials, from people who have found Kinsale to be the highlight of their trip to Ireland. Slainte’!
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