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Must See Places in Ireland: Kinsale

Must See Places in Ireland: Kinsale

It’s been over five years ago now that we reinvented our life by moving from Colorado in the United States to Kinsale, Co. Cork Ireland. While it’s not easy to relocate halfway around the world, we believe it was the best possible thing we could have done for our lives. Like many ex-pats we are perhaps more in love with our adopted home than people would be who have grown up here. Ireland is full of historic sites, and Kinsale has several of them. While there are many places to go in Ireland, we believe Kinsale to have so many charming nuances that everyone should stay here, at least a few days. This article is a series about the “must see places in Ireland,” and is meant for people traveling in Ireland, whether just visiting or those who have lived here a lifetime.

Kinsale is a medieval village combined with a yachting community, and it has all the great features of both. Part of the reason we chose to move here is its cosmopolitan nature while snuggled in a small village with historical significance. A little over 600 years ago, Kinsale was the site of a major battle between English troops and the Spanish Armada who had been recruited by the Irish in their struggle to stop the English occupation of their country. Because of its location at the estuary of the Bandon River and the sea, Kinsale grew up with the importance of water transport until the 18th century. Kinsale reinvented itself in the 1970s to embrace tourism as a major portion of the economy, and with that, came the refurbishment of the older buildings and the emphasis on Kinsale as the cuisine capital of Ireland.


There are three major historical sites in Kinsale or within a short walk out of town: Charles Fort, James Fort, and Desmond Castle.

The Irish were not successful at the battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the English responded after the battle by building two forts, both well worth seeing for entirely different reasons. Charles Fort dominates the western side of the river estuary and the visitor can get there by taking a lovely walk by the water which then winds its way through Summercove and onto the fort. Full of historic content, the fort is well worth an hour or more of walking around and seeing its various buildings while enjoying the views. Charles Fort was inhabited by English soldiers until 1922 when they pulled out of Ireland. Hippies in the 1960s made it their home and now finally, due 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 head out of town keeping the water to 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 onto the beach, and at the far end you head up a narrow pathway which opens onto a large green expanse. The fort can be reached by heading on the footpath to the top of the hill and looking for the gap in the hedge rows that drops down beyond it to a path that continues to the right. In the 5+ years that we have lived here the OPW has done much to improve the fort, although it is only open to the public during history week in August. Nevertheless, the entire hillside is worth seeing. Continuing around the top of the hill and then following a pathway with hedgerows on both sides you to send to a circular stone structure that overlooks the river. There are two places one on the Kinsale side and one on the seaside where visitors can go down to the rocks and sea, and some of the best photos of the area can be taken from here.

Desmond Castle was built in 1500 and is considered an excellent example of an urban tower house. Billed as a customs house for the times it consists of three levels of structure with storehouses at the back. Desmond Castle also served as a French prison in 18th century, an Ordnance house or center of the national survey, and work house during the great famine between 1845 in 1852. It now is an international museum of wine and tells the story of the Irish Winegeese, the Irish people who are now involved with the making of wine around the world.

Shopping and Food

Kinsale is also the place where visitors can easily spend an afternoon or two meandering through the charming shops and picking up clothing and gifts. Hamish Hawkin, and Granny’s Bottom Drawer are two of our favorites because of their quality and unusual merchandise.

Likewise, Kinsale is the cuisine capital of Ireland and no matter what kind of food you fancy it will be a restaurant able to give it to you. Rather remarkable for a town this size, many restaurants are five star quality and deserve notice. Max’s Wine Bar, Crackpots, the Blue Haven, Fishy Fishy and the White House each serve a different kind of venue and all are excellent. If you just want a quick cup of coffee or cappuccino perhaps 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, will be found from April to December at Diva Boutique Café in Ballinspittle. If you are traveling out of Kinsale towards Garrettstown Beach or on to to Timoleague (a trip that is the topic of another article in this series) the café will be on your right just as you make the turn into Ballinspittle. If you go to Diva for dinner you may bring your own bottle of wine to accompany your meal.

There are also many excellent pubs in town, frequently with traditional music venues, jazz in the follow, or other types 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 from our apartment at number two distillery, and on the same side of the street of St. Multose Church, the Tap is the home for the Kinsale rampart players theater group and the place from which the famous Ghost Tour begins.

Kinsale is a fabulous place to spend a few days at home base taking day trips out to see other interesting sites in the area. The signature book at our apartment is filled with great stories and comments, testimonials, from people who have found Kinsale to be a highlight of their trip to Ireland. Slainte’!