I have just returned from a week in County Cork on the southern coast of Ireland. The whole area is beautiful, I know because we (hubby and myself) covered the entire county. There were many places where I fully enjoyed our visit, but none more so than the characteristic town of Kinsale.
KINSALE - HISTORY
The very attractive town of Kinsale is around 30 kilometres south of Cork City. It is one of the most successful and popular visitor destinations in Ireland. Kinsale has many attractions which include heritage, gourmet restaurants, sailing, deep sea angling and golf.
Early settlers in Ireland came to live in the area which we now know as Kinsale. Indeed the Old Head of Kinsale has been attributed as the site for some of the earliest settlers in Ireland. Later a number of Christian settlements were established in the surrounding countryside. The town has an important place in Irish history. It was near here in 1601 that the Battle of Kinsale was fought. At this battle the Irish forces with their Spanish allies challenged the power of the English troops. In December of that year the English proved to be victorious.
Kinsale was a significant naval base in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed in the 18th century, It seems to have enjoyed a degree of prosperity not otherwise common in Ireland. Kinsale has for centuries had close European connections and in 1966 it became the first town in Ireland to be awarded the Flag of the Council of Europe.
KINSALE - TODAY
As a casual visitor to Kinsale, I was captivated by its beautiful setting, with the long waterfront, narrow winding streets containing craft and art shops, galleries and excellent eateries. You can choose from over a dozen ambitious and innovative restaurants. We had a wonderful seafood lunch at the Fishy Fishy Bar. The houses are carefully maintained and brightly painted many of them enhanced by floral displays and window boxes. As always, we spent some time looking in the windows of estate agents. Property prices are among the highest in the country but a lot do come with sea views. Yachting and deep-sea angling have become popular seasonal activities, operating from two marinas. While most west Cork towns are twinned with their Brittany equivalent, Kinsale is twinned with sunny Antibes- Juan Pins.
The best way to see the town is to walk round it. It was great to sample the atmosphere. We bought gifts of local crafts and stocked up on wonderful home-made foodstuffs to take back to our cottage. Interesting antiques emporia well outnumber any tatty souvenir shops.
A couple of interesting places worth visiting are: -
The courthouse which now contains the Kinsale Regional Museum (open Easter to October daily 10.30-4pm) whose exhibits include momentos of the wreck of the ill fated transatlantic passenger liner, the Lussitania. A German submarine sunk the ship 23 kilometres off the coast of the Old Head of Kinsale in 1916. 1,198 passengers and crew were killed.
Two minutes' walk from the museum is Desmond Castle, a 16th century tower house which has recently been restored. It was used as a prison during the 18th century, and is still know locally as "the French Prison". It currently houses a very interesting exhibit celebrating wine-producing families of Irish origin.
We had a very pleasant walk around Kinsale harbour. Situated on the estuary of the Bandon River, this, according to the locals is one of the most scenic harbours in Ireland. We watched yachts of all sizes bouncing on the water as we fed pike in the crystal clear river.
Things to do: -
Deep sea angling and Shore angling: For many years Kinsale has been an important centre, and is well known for the quality of the angling, which the waters of Kinsale have produced.
Sailing: The coast south west of Kinsale provides some of the best cruising grounds in Europe and Kinsale Yacht Club has been well established for over 20 years.
Diving: The waters of Kinsale harbour and further afield provide excellent facilities.
Cruises: Day cruises are available from Kinsale and these feature the wildlife of the coastline in the general Kinsale area.
Sadly we missed the Gourmet festival which is held every October.
Kinsale may be more expensive than the rest of the south-west, but for me, it has style. There is an easy going, cosmopolitan atmosphere, different from what we found in other small Irish towns. The quality of the environment is a very strong visitor attraction. Kinsale has regularly won the Irish Tourist Board Tidy Towns competition. For many visitors to Ireland, Kinsale heads the list of places to see. Friends recommended it to us and I can only pass on those recommendations to anyone visiting the area.
My partner Gabrielle went to school in Kinsale - in the convent up on the hill. We have visited Kinsale several times - both for a day out and to stay for a few days. It is a great place! The scenery around the wonderful harbour is stunning! Go up to Charles Fort and look back at Kinsale for a perspective of the bay and across to the other point - imagine the battles of history. You can learn much of the history at Charles Fort including a series of good videos and presentations. You will see the yachts and boats - this is a favourite haunt for sailing.Try the famous Spaniard pub on your way back to town. The town has narrow streets with plenty of interesting shops with Irish goods. The pubs are welcoming and very friendly! There are many restaurants - although despite its reputation food quality in Kinsale can be poor even in the supposedly gourmet restaurants. You have to look hard for the few good places. Max bistro/restaurant is one of the best I have tried. I have sent food back twice at different places. Keen golfers will appreciate the local courses. Tiger Woods flew into Cork just to play the new course! There are foreign links through a recent twinning with Rhode Island - and there is evidence of the link in the town. They had a Rhode Island food week recently with chefs from USA in Kinsale. There are also strong links with Brittany through sailing and the celtic/breton cultures. A small French market from Morlaix was there on one of my visits. All in all an interesting place with something for everybody! I recommend a short or long break!