Kinsale was one of my favorite destinations while in Ireland. How could it not be? It’s very picturesque and known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. I will not comment on that claim, as I have not the depth of knowledge of Ireland’s food scene, but my limited exposure tells me, if its not tops, it is certainly near the summit.
If you are not driving, Kinsale has regular bus service to Cork via the Cork Airport – it takes about 20 minutes. You do not need a car to explore Kinsale proper itself, and in fact, I strongly recommend walking. It has its fill of twisty roads filled with wonderful shops and restaurants to explore. If you drive you might miss something.
A Bit About the Town
Kinsale is known for its many gourmet restaurants and leisure activities – including yachting, sea angling, and golf. I’ll add window shopping, art gallery gazing and meandering to the list. It also holds an annual “Gourmet Festival”.
In 1601, Kinsale was the site of a battle in which English forces defeated an Irish/Spanish contingency, led by the princes Hugh Roe O’Donnell and Hugh O’Neill. The resulting loss led to the Flight of the Earls in which a number of the native Irish aristocrats, including the Earls of Tyrone and Tir Conaill abandoned their lands and fled to mainland Europe.
In 1690, James II of England and Ireland, following his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, departed to France.
Charles Fort, located at Summer Cove and dating from 1677 guards the entrance to Kinsale harbour. It was built to protect the harbor from use by the French and
Spanish in the event of a landing in Ireland. James’s Fort is located on the other side of the cove, on the Castlepark peninsula. An underwater chain was strung between the two forts across the harbour mouth during times of war to scuttle enemy shipping by ripping the bottom out of incoming vessels. You can see the forts on both sides of the harbor and imagine what a sight it was back in the day.
When the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, some of the bodies and survivors were brought to Kinsale and the subsequent inquest was held in the town’s courthouse. A statue in the harbour commemorates the effort.
Sites to See
Perhaps the best-known historical attraction in Kinsale, Charles Fort, is on the road just beyond Summercove. Charles Fort is one of the finest surviving examples of a 17th century star-shaped fort. The fort has two enormous bastions overlooking the estuary, and three facing inland. Within its walls were all the barracks and ancillary facilities to support the fort’s garrison. If you run, there is a path along the water front that takes you from downtown Kinsale to the fort ~ 3 miles away. Its a lovely walk too, with some pubs and restaurants to address and nutritional needs. A regular bus is also available for transportation.
James Fort holds a commanding position directly across the harbour mouth from Charles Fort. Together, these forts guarded the narrow harbour entrance. Construction began on James Fort in 1602. It was completed in 1607. It has undergone much alteration in the intervening centuries. This fort is mostly in ruins but is still worth a visit if your schedule permits. Many people pack a picnic when exploring this site.
Desmond Castle & The International Museum of Wine
Our B&B was two blocks away from this place, so we were not going to miss it. The guide was very friendly, and gave us a personal overview of the history both of Desmond Castle, and the converted wine museum it had become.
Desmond Castle was built around 1500 by Maurice Bacach Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond, and has served many uses in its lifetime. Between 1600 and 1601, Don Juan Aguilla used it as an arsenal when the Spanish occupied the town, prior to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.
Dating back to 1412, Kinsale was a designated wine port, and supplied three of the five Irish ships for the Vintage Fleet. In that year, the Vintage Fleet, consisting of 160 vessels plyed wine to and from Bordeaux. Desmond Castle was a customs house during a portion of this time.
In the 17th century the castle became known as the “French prison” and was used for prisoners of war, mostly French sailors captured at sea. The prisoners were ransomed or exchanged for their British counterparts. Their conditions were horrendous, with overcrowding, lack of food, starvation and disease.
During the American Revolution, crews of many American vessels were held prisoner in Kinsale in similar conditions. The situation was ignored until the Rev. William Hazlett, a Presbyterian Minister, and from Reuben Harvey, a Quaker merchant in Cork raised awareness. Through their influence conditions were improved. In 1783, George Washington recognized Harvey for
“his exertions in relieving the distresses of such of our fellow citizens as were prisoners in Ireland”.
I was not sure what to expect of this wine museum, maybe something more grand, given its name “The International Wine Museum”. The concept of the museum is not to encompass the history of wine throughout the world, but focus on the wine trade and industry from the Irish perspective. However, once, I gleaned the intent of the museum, I was fascinated to learn how the Irish had scattered worldwide and yielded considerable influence on the international wine industry.
The “Wild Geese” was the name given to the thousands of families who migrated from Ireland from the 17th to the 19th centuries due to various reasons including: religious persecution and prohibitive commercial legislation. Some of them entered the wine trade and are often referred to as the “Irish Wine Geese”, and “spread their wings to the four corners of the world”. The museum in Desmond Castle recalls the castle’s eventful history and the amazing story of the Irish links to the wine trade. The link included in this paragraph does a great job touching on the history, the countries, and the families that made a name for themselves in the wine industry.
St. Multose Church
Built in 1190, this church has remained in continuous use to the present day. Some interesting features include an inscription in Norman French, the Easter sepulchre, the Baptismal font, the carved memorials, and the reredos from the Galway chapel and the wooden Coat of Arms. The Southwell Memorial in Carrera marble, is the work of Arnold Quellin of London. It was in this church that Prince Rupert proclaimed Charles II as King, upon learning that Cromwell had executed King Charles I in London. Prince Rupert’s fleet was conveniently anchored in Kinsale harbor.
The Almshouses were built by Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702) who was born in the Kinsale area, and became one of the most famous and powerful men of his time. They were built to accommodate aged, destitute people of the town and they continue to this day to provide the service envisaged nearly four hundred years ago!
Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance
Kinsale Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to Fr. Michael Judge, Chaplain in the New York Fire Department and fire fighters, who lost their lives in New York on September 11th 2001. The Kinsale Garden of Remembrance was initiated by Kathleen Murphy, a nurse in New York City. She was born in Ringfinnan, Kinsale and her family still resides here. The first tree planting ceremony took place in November 2001. The dedication ceremony was attended by Irish relatives of the deceased New York fire fighters. Many of the fire fighters were of Irish descent, and the garden is regularly visited by US visitors. Attached to each tree is the name of a fireman.
A Must Mention: Fishy Fishy Restaurant
Based on my previous statements, I know you’ll not be surprised when I say, that the food was delicious, nay outstanding. We started with the mussels; they were perfectly cooked and the waitress needed to refill our breadbasket as we wanted to capture and savor every drop of the sauce. Rarely have I had seafood that still tasted so fresh from the sea, I can still recall the briny taste of the mussels that was perfectly attune with the spices in the broth.
The fish dish was superb – not overcooked, and flaked apart with the gentlest of pressure with my fork. It was nestled on a bed of shredded cabbage, and the flavors were fresh and complimentary. Also included were several slices of potato that were fresh and truly tasted of potato not some pasty imitation – giving further evidence that Kinsale is ideally situated in the agricultural mecca of Cork County to offer a bounty that rivals what it gets from the sea.
Amazingly enough after a bit of walking we managed to find room for dessert. Given all the signs for ice cream made from the famous local bovines, how could we resist? I sampled a Guinness ice cream, and my Mom had a Bailey’s Irish Cream flavor – both were luscious, rich and smooth. We chose well indeed.
I have no idea what Kinsale is like at the height of tourist season, we visited in the middle of September and while we had a bit of trouble getting a room, the town was not over run with tourist. It had a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere that was a breath of fresh air. This is a place I would choose to visit if I wanted a few days to get away from it all and still treat my stomach with all sorts of delicious treats.
Oysters on Creamed Leeks with Guinness Hollandaise
Modified from a version by Margaret Johnson
24 oysters, shucked, with liquor (juices) retained
2 T butter
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, thoroughly washed and sliced
2/3 cup cream
S + P
¾ cup (1 ¼ sticks) butter
½ cup Guinness
3 egg yolks
Juice of ½ lemon
Over a small bowl, shuck oysters, strain and reserve the liquor and shells. Add the butter and water to a medium bowl and cook heat until butter has melted. Add the leeks and cook until slightly tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream and reduce until it thickens slightly, stirring continuously, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm in a bowl over hot water.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. In another saucepan over medium heat, combine the reserved oyster liquid and Guinness and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. With the motor running, add the egg yolks and lemon juice, then slowly drizzle in the melted butters until the mixture thickens.
Preheat the broiler. Place the reserved oyster shells on a baking sheet. Divide the creamed leeks evenly into the shells and top with an oyster. Spoon the Guinness hollandaise sauce over each and place under the broiler until the sauce is browned and bubbling. Serve 4 oysters per person.
NOTE: Apologies for the onslaught of Irish posts, I had intended to mix it up a bit, but in the process of moving, all my materials are boxed up, so I’m going with what I can write about with photographs on hand.