Perched on a strategic harbor with a history that spans more than six hundred years, Kinsale brings to life the scenery, charm and beauty that epitomizes the Republic of Ireland. As soon as our car turned the bend at the edge of town, and we spied the whimsical blues, reds and yellows adorning facades on the hill, we knew this was what we had in mind when planning this journey. Kinsale Harbor, at the mouth of the River Bandon, serves as a welcome mat for all who visit.
Our trip began with a flight into Dublin, where we immediately hopped on a train heading south. The train system – Irish Rail – is well-maintained and punctual, although unlike most major European cities, the train is not accessible from the airport. You must take a bus or a cab to Dublin Station. A cab costs more, but it’s a lot quicker (20 minutes) than the bus (up to an hour). If you do book a train voyage, consider purchasing seats in a first-class berth.
We disembarked at Kent Station in Cork and grabbed a cab for the Cork Airport in order to rent a car. We knew that the Irish drive on the “wrong” side of the road and the steering wheel was on the right. To make things a bit easier, we rented an automatic, so we didn’t have to shift with our left hand.
Thirty minutes later we arrived in Kinsale and checked into our in-town accommodation, the 18th-century Long Quay House. The boutique hotel, oozing with history, is a former home from the 1700s and sits on the small main drag of Old Kinsale. Our spacious quarters looked out over the road and the scenic inner harbor and marina. The proprietor, Peter, could not have been friendlier, offering suggestions and making us feel right at home.
Our first dinner in what is known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland did not disappoint. Based on a recommendation from the barkeep at The Market, my wife and I dined at High Tide Kinsale, a tight-quartered, homey restaurant serving some of the best seafood in town. After our dinner of hake and monkfish, we ducked into Kitty O’Shea’s, a pub alive with music, as well as audience participation.
A visit to Kinsale is not complete without taking the Historic Stroll of Old Kinsale, a morning walking tour hosted by either Don or Barry. Today it was Barry, who took us on a fascinating excursion through time, relating battles the town waged in during the 16th and 17th centuries, pointing out remnants of the once walled-city, stopping at the oldest pub—the Greyhound, circa 1690—and learning how the village of Kingsale became known as Kinsale.
The walk ends at the still vibrant Market Square, where traders, fishermen and merchants once hawked their wares. The square is also home to the old courthouse (now a museum), circa 1610, where an inquest was held into the sinking of the British luxury liner HMS Lusitania off the shores of Kinsale in 1915. That cowardly act by a German submarine captain served as a catalyst for the United States to enter World War I.
The tour lasts about an hour and a half at which time you will have walked around much of Old Kinsale. Later, when exploring the old town on our own, visiting pubs and stopping in shops, we swear we could hear Barry’s voice imparting his knowledge.
After a tasty pizza and salad at the Lunch Box in Market Square (and a pint), we meandered through town landing at a lively beer garden called Oscar Madison’s. Being a fan of the Odd Couple television show from the 1970s, we could not pass it up.
A trek along Scilly Walk on the outskirts of old Kinsale eventually brought us to Charles Fort built in 1677, a well-preserved enclave constructed by the English to protect Kinsale, which they ruled for centuries. The grounds of Charles Fort are a wonderful place to relax on the grassy knolls and imagine life in the 17th century, while the eyes feast on spectacular views of the river and harbor, with the town of Kinsale as a backdrop. Directly across from Charles Fort is the remnants of James Fort, built by the British in 1607.
Just down the path from Charles Fort is a Kinsale mainstay that opened in the early 1800s. The Bulman Bar and Toddies Restaurant, a widely popular hang out on the water, serves up cold drinks and tasty seafood. And as you head back toward town, a stop at the Spaniard is a must. Built on castle ruins and perched on a hill, this pub has been around since 1650.
The day was capped off with a fabulous wedding anniversary dinner at The Supper Club and ended with a return engagement to Kitty O’Shea’s.
Morning came early after a night of pub hopping and with a two-hour car ride ahead of us, the breakfast fare at the Long Quay hit the spot—a buffet with meat, cheeses, and fruit accompanied by a made-to-order breakfast. We spent the morning strolling through town, diving into shops to take back memories—don’t miss the Boathouse Gallery—and wandered into a Saturday craft bazaar where all sorts of handmade trinkets were on display. We left with a Guinness-coaster clock. Perfect for the guest room back home.
Our 45 hours were up, and although sad to go, it was time to experience the west coast of Ireland from the seaside town of Dingle.
Guest Author: Kevin Fritz
My specialties lie in travel and feature writing with an innate ambition to experience the world first-hand. This year, I traveled to Saudi Arabia for research and last year spent Christmas with my wife, Christi, in Brussels and Paris. We love to travel and have explored Germany, Italy, France Poland, Costa Rica, Canada and most of the United States. A journalist for 30 years, I authored the fiction novel Crossover and received my BS in Journalism from Ohio University. Check out Kevin’s portfolio.