Kinsale in the south of Ireland is a coastal village famous for its brightly colored shops, gourmet restaurants and significant history. Mostly you’ll find that it’s the perfect small town to walk around in. Did we mention pubs yet? Oh yes, you’ll find lots of Irish music in the pubs of Kinsale. It is a small town with a friendly atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you just want to hang out and relax. Following is the text of the movie. Photos, videos, links and maps will be added later.
Kinsale has become one of Ireland's most popular visitor destinations, and yet it is somewhat remote. It's not very crowded except for a couple of months in the summertime when it does get rather busy.
The rest of the year it's a little bit more quiet and peaceful than the other major Irish destinations, because it's on the far southern shore away from the main intercity highways. Coming in through the little downtown, we’re soon driving along the marina as we get to our hotel, the Actons, nicely located just a short walk from the town center.
One of the defining characteristics and most pleasant aaspects of the city is that it's right on the water. There's a big natural harbor that played a large role in its history and economy, which has involved fishing and trading with Europe, and some important military battles because of its strategic location. More on that later.
The town consists of well-preserved historic buildings because during the twentieth century this area was in economic decline. Nothing much happened here, there was very little development. And so the old buildings from centuries ago are still standing. It's one of those delightful historical sequences where a town was booming in the 1600s and 1700, 1800s with many attractive shops and homes built in a nicely organized village center, then went into decline, left alone for a hundred years, and now it's been rediscovered. The buildings are all renovated and painted in a lively variety of colors.
In the last forty years, Kinsale has really blossomed and has bounced back today as a very attractive destination. The largest public gathering place is Market Square, which has the only pedestrian streets in town.
Several outdoor restaurants and cafés, and mostly it's a place to have a drink or sit on a bench, or just percent stroll through. Just a really nice place to hang out. And with that street furniture you're welcome to sit down without buying anything and relax.
We've gotten used to pedestrian zones in most towns of Europe and come to expect them where cars are not allowed. But it's not that common in Ireland, except in a few places such as Kinsale. Even here the pedestrian zone is pretty small. It's only three little blocks, but as you can see on the map, the entire center of town is very friendly for the pedestrian, for walking along. Yeah, there’s cars in the streets, but not many. And there's nice sidewalks. It's a very quiet place.
Here, too, it's quite different than most Irish towns that usually consist of one main road running through the center of the town and that's about it. You don't often have that tangle of inviting side streets that you want to go exploring, like you find here in Kinsale. Partly it's because Kinsale is located out of the way. It's not on a major thoroughfare connecting to other big cities.
And another factor is that it was occupied and developed by the British from 1600s up through about 1800s when it really took its form. Irish were not even allowed to live in the city during that time.
Which brings up some interesting history. Yes, the Spanish Armada was here in Kinsale. In 1601 the Spanish Navy arrived. to help the Irish in their rebellion against the English overlords. However, that did not succeed; the English prevailed and controlled Ireland for the next 300 years.
The Irish were diplomatic in those early struggles and did not fight back, for example against Cromwell's invading armies. And as a result, the town was not destroyed. But like the slogan of Notre Dame University tells us, the Irish are the fighting Irish, and they finally prevailed with the revolution of 1921, giving the English the boot.
(Kids yell and cheer) Some kind of victory. (Horns beep, cheers, horns beep)
We were just trying to get across the street to a highly-recommended restaurant, Jim Edwards. It's a gastropub.
Oh, we haven't mentioned yet, Kinsale is also most famous as a gourmet center. They have dozens of fine places to eat, many of which have reached gourmet status such as this gastropub, Jim Edwards.
It's highly rated on Trip Advisor, but more importantly, with locals were telling us this is an excellent restaurant. And as we sat and enjoyed a meal, we saw more and more local people coming in to fill up the place, so we knew this was a good spot. Naturally, they have a lot of wonderful fresh fish on the menu and they are famous for their scalloped potatoes. It figures that Irish can be very creative with potatoes, and they were, and their big side dishes of vegetables. It was an amazing feast at a reasonable price.
So, don't think that a pub is strictly a bar with a lot of Guinness, and maybe a pub lunch. Many of them are gourmet restaurants nowadays, especially in Kinsale.
Another famous high-quality restaurant is Blue Haven, which is also a hotel right in the center of town; it would be an excellent place to stay and to eat.
Kinsale has been compared to the French Riviera, the Côte d'Azur, and has a twin town in Antibes and also in Newport, Rhode Island. And when you walk around, you can see the attractiveness of the town. And just looking at the shopfronts is also one of the great activities in Kinsale, so take time, take a stroll; you can spend an hour or two window-shopping and maybe buy something. They’ve got a great variety of things on sale. And mostly these are unique little boutique shops, there are no chain stores apparent in Kinsale, anywhere.
The buildings have such of vibrant color, without being garish, it makes you feel like you're walking through a work of art, and with so many great restaurants to pick from.
There is an overall harmony in the human scale of the buildings but tremendous diversity from one door to the next.
What do you think? Are you enchanted yet by this place that you might have never heard of? But there's more. There is some fascinating history to explore.
If you would walk up one of these steep hills you will soon get to an old castle. It's Desmond Castle tthat was built about five hundred years ago. It's fine example of an urban tower house. It was originally built as a customhouse, especially for wine. The Earl of Desmond was granted the right to take one cask of wine from every shipment.
And Kinsale in those days was a major importer of wine to Ireland from Spain and France and Portugal.
Inside the castle they have a small wine museum, with different kinds of corkscrews, old bottles of wine, and different paraphernalia. A couple of centuries later the castle also served as a prison, because the French Navy attempted to capture Kinsale, and they were defeated. And so the prisoners were held here, and it's known locally as the French Prison because of soldiers who were locked up here during the Napoleonic Wars. It's worth climbing up the steps to the rooftop observation deck because here you get a nice view looking out across Kinsale Harbor. You can see how much of a boating center Kinsale is.
In the old days the area was famous for pirates, and we found out they still have pirates today. (yells) Hello, hello. He’s getting married. I am. I’m a shy mermaid. I’m a shy mermaid. (laughing) It’s a typically wild and crazy bachelor party. (laughter) That’s Percy. You’re pirates? We are, yeah, we are pirates. Kinsale pirates, an old tradition. Exactly, yeah, yeah, we’re keeping up the tradition, yeah, we’re plundering, looting, pillaging, yeah, yeah. And of course the ladies have their hen parties, too.
We really enjoyed our visit to Kinsale, and yet we only stayed for one night. It's amazing how much you can do in one day.
Now it's time for a delightful buffet breakfast at our hotel and then move along. Kinsale is a small town, the center is much less than one square kilometer, so you really can see it in a short period. Or you could certainly spend a few days or a week here, going through all the restaurants and enjoying the surroundings, but for us it's time to go.
Our very capable driver guide Martin Woulfe, working with My Ireland Tour, is getting us organized and onto the bus and on our way.
We do have one more stop before we depart Kinsale and that's the historic site of Charles Fort, built by the British after that attack by the Spanish Armada in 1601.
It was completed in 1681 in a classic Vauban style of fortification.
It successfully resisted any attack until 1921 after the Irish Revolution, when the Irish burned down some of the wooden structures inside.
And that completes our visit to Kinsale.
We’re now taking the final driving leg of our Ireland tour, traveling from Kinsale up to Dublin. Normally it takes about three hours for this scenic drive, and the roads are quite good. But along the way we’re going to make a stop at the Rock of Cashel, a very important historic site.
The total distance from Kinsale to Dublin is just about 175 miles, and you could drive it yourself with a rental car; or in our case were enjoying the services of My Ireland Tours with our driver Martin, so we can relax in our minibus and enjoy the views, looking through big picture windows and not worrying about driving on the left side of the road.
In just over one hour we arrive at the Rock of Cashel and right away we can see how massive this rocky plateau is, a natural outcrop 300-feet high. We can see why it started out as of fortress, easily defended. The round tower is the oldest surviving structure probably from the 9th century, about 90 feet high.
There is a magnificent view from the Rock across what's called the Vale of Tralee, some of the fairest and most fertile land in Ireland.
The church was intentionally destroyed by the Archbishop in 1749 because he wanted to build the church in town where it was more convenient for him to get to, rather than up on top of the rock.
The site generally has its local guide as well telling some stories about the history.
Okay, first thing you’re all very welcome here to the Rock of Cashel. Now the earliest building here on this site today dates back to the twelfth century, but the history of the Rock dates back to the fourth century. Now from the 4th until the 12th century, it was the kings of Munster that lived here on the Rock.
And in the first year of the twelfth century, in 1101, the king hands the site over to the church, and from there on in, it was bishops and archbishops that lived here.
Now all the buildings here on the site, they are all ecclesiastical buildings and would have been in use by the church. Now you’ll notice here that the cathedral here is in the shape of a crucifix, or its cruciform in plan. And in 1749 they built a new cathedral down in the town center itself, and abandoned this one here on the rock, and that was really the end of all activity on the rock by the church.
Constructed mostly back in the 13th century, this is one of the finest examples of a Gothic ruins anywhere in Europe.
And there are some original sculptures still on views, somewhat worn down by the centuries, but still impressive to see.
Also included in your admission charge is the chance to walk around in several of the other buildings, including some that give you that feeling of life 500 years ago.
The word “cashel” in Irish means defensive wall, and this 2-acre site is still surrounded in part by remains of a fortified stone wall. You want to be sure to take in those lovely vistas.
We are back on the road again in our small private bus heading for the last stop in our journey, the city of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. We’re coming full circle now because we started in Dublin a week ago, went over to Galway and then headed south, ending up in Kinsale and now back to Dublin.
Each and every town that we visited was delightful and so has been the view out the windows of the bus, watching the Irish countryside glide by. In the past I have driven a rental car around Ireland and I must say I prefer to let somebody else do the driving.
We have an entire movie all about Dublin along with several other movies covering our Irish tour. Be sure to look for them in our collection. As always, the videos are entertaining and educational, giving you practical information about how to travel through Ireland.