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Must See Places in Ireland: Kinsale
It’s been over five years since we reinvented our lives, moving from Colorado in the United States to Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. Although moving halfway around the world is not easy, we believe it is the best thing we could have done for our lives. Like many former residents, we are perhaps more in love with our adopted home than the people who grew up here. Ireland is full of historic sites and Kinsale has a few of them. While there are many places to visit in Ireland, we think Kinsale has so much charm that everyone should stay here for at least a few days. This article is a series on places to visit in Ireland and is intended for people traveling in Ireland, whether just visitors or those who have lived here all their lives.
Kinsale is a medieval village combined with a yachting community and it has all the great features of both. One of the reasons we decided to move here is because of its cosmopolitan nature, being located in a small village with historical significance. Just over 600 years ago, Kinsale was the site of a major battle between English forces and the Spanish Armada, which had been recruited by the Irish in their fight to end the English occupation of their country. Due to its location at the estuary of the River Bandon and the sea, Kinsale grew with the importance of water transport by the 18th century. In the 1970s, Kinsale remade itself to make tourism a major part of the economy, along with the renovation of old buildings, and a focus on Kinsale as the culinary capital of Ireland.
There are three main historic sites in Kinsale or within walking distance of the town: Fort Charles, Fort James and Desmond Castle.
The Irish were unsuccessful at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, and the English responded by building two forts after the battle, both noteworthy for very different reasons. Fort Charles dominates the west side of the mouth of the river, and the visitor can reach it by taking a lovely walk by the water, which then winds its way through Sammerkov and to the fort. Filled with historical content, the fort is worth walking around for an hour or more and looking at its various buildings while enjoying the views. Fort Charles was inhabited by English soldiers until 1922, when they withdrew from Ireland. Hippies in the 1960s made it their home, and now, finally, thanks to the diligence of the Department of Public Works, it is being restored and is now a venue for art shows and musical performances.
James Fort is our favorite dog walk. You leave the town keeping the water on your left, cross the bridge and then come back down the road again, the water on your left until you reach the Dock pub. Signs direct you to the beach and at the far end you head up a narrow path that opens onto a large green space. The fort can be reached by following the footpath to the top of the hill and looking for a gap in the rows of hedgerows that drop beyond the path that continues to the right. In the 5+ years we’ve lived here, the OPW has done a lot to improve the fort, although it’s only open to the public during history week in August. Nevertheless, the entire slope is worth exploring. Continuing around the top of the hill and then following a path with hedgerows on either side, you will come to a circular stone structure overlooking the river. There are two locations, one on the Kinsale side and the other on the seafront, where visitors can walk down to the cliffs and sea, and from where some of the best photos of the area can be taken.
Desmond Castle was built in 1500 and is considered a fine example of a city tower. At the time it was called the Customs House and consists of three levels with storage at the rear. Desmond Castle also served as a French prison in the 18th century, a munition house or national inspection center, and a workhouse during the Great Famine between 1845 and 1852. Now it is an international museum of wine and tells the story of the Irish Vingees, the Irish people who are now engaged in making wine all over the world.
Shopping and food
Kinsale is also a place where visitors can easily spend a day or two wandering 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 merchandise.
Likewise, Kinsale is the culinary capital of Ireland, and no matter what kind of food you like, the restaurant will be able to serve it to you. Quite surprisingly for a city of this size, many restaurants are five-star and worthy of attention. Max’s Wine Bar, Crackpots, Blue Haven, Fishy Fishy, and White House all have different locations and they are all great. If you just want a quick cup of coffee or cappuccino, maybe during lunch, we recommend Tom’s Bakery, The Lemon Tree, Blue Haven or Cucina’s.
The best value for the most interesting food, both day and night, can be found from April to December at Diva’s Boutique Cafe in Ballinspittle. If you are traveling from Kinsale towards Garethstown Beach or towards Timoligo (a journey which is the subject of another article in this series) the cafe will be on your right as soon as you turn onto Ballinspittle. When you go to Diva for dinner, you can bring your own bottle of wine to accompany your meal.
The town also has many excellent pubs, often with traditional music venues, jazz and other entertainment. Any visitor looking for a traditional Irish pub experience should definitely check out the Tap Tavern. Across the road and down a little to the left of our apartment in Distillery Number Two, and on the same side of the street as St Multose’s Church, the Tap is home to the Kinsale Rampart Players theater group and the starting point for the famous Ghost Tour.
Kinsale is a great place to spend a few days at home with day trips to see other interesting places in the area. The signature book in our apartment is filled with great stories, comments and testimonials from people who found Kinsale the highlight of their trip to Ireland. Slainete’!
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