Kinsale (Cionn tSáile, "head of the brine") is a small harbour in County Cork, Southwest Ireland. It's 25 km south of Cork city, at the mouth of the River Bandon, and in 2016 had a population of 5281. It's a tourist resort, popular for angling and sailing, and has a concentration of gourmet restaurants.
Kinsale is a small sheltered harbour in the estuary of the river Bandon. It's popular with amateur sailors and sea-anglers, but is too small for ocean-going ships. But in bygone centuries with small craft, it was well-positioned for trade with France and Spain - and for dodging the attention of English warships patrolling the western Channel.
By 1600 the English controlled most of Ireland but the O'Neills of Ulster remained the last Irish opposition. They called for support from the Catholic continent and Spain weighed in. Several naval expeditions were beset by storms but in 1601 they managed to land troops at Kinsale - the wrong end of the country to help the O'Neills. They became bottled up there so the Irish marched south to join them and break the English siege. They were routed in the battle of 24 Dec 1601; the Spanish remained besieged for three months then surrendered, and were allowed to sail home. Irish rule was broken.
Another continental caller in 1689 was King James II & VII, ousted from the English throne but strongly supported in Ireland. He landed at Kinsale with French troops and marched north, to be beaten at the Battle of the Boyne. He scarpered down to Wexford then to Kinsale where he fled to France, leaving his Irish supporters to fight and die for a lost cause. So in terms of regnal number, that made him James II of England and Wales, VII of Scotland, and Séamus an Chaca of Ireland - "James the Shit".
In 1703 a band of privateers left Kinsale to attack Spanish shipping, and among them was Alexander Selkirk. After a year of storms and battles in the Pacific his ship was in a bad way, and he declared he'd rather be put ashore than continue in it. The captain left him on what we now call Robinson Crusoe Island, and sailed on to have the ship sink under him. Selkirk spent five years as a castaway, and altogether had a more lurid life than the mercantile hero of Daniel Defoe's novel.
The English built up their navy facilities here but Kinsale harbour was too small for late-18th century vessels, let alone the metal steamers of the Victorian age, thanks to the sandbar at its entrance and the rocks known as "The Sovereign's Bollocks". So it was never a major port of emigration, and didn't attract industry and development; the navy base moved to Cork. This means that Kinsale's higgledy-piggledy narrow old streets have been preserved, lined by colourful houses.
The Tourist Information Office is by the main town car park and bus stop on Pier Rd. It's open Tu-Sa 09:00-17:00.
See Cork for long distance options by rail, sea and air. Bus Éireann 226 runs hourly daily from Cork railway station, Parnell Place bus station and Cork airport, taking an hour to Kinsale. (Bus 226A only goes as far as the airport.) A standard single is €10, it's cheaper with a Leap card.
Local Link Bus 253 runs from Clonakilty via Timoleague and Ballinspittle to Kinsale. There are 5 M-Sa and 3 on Sunday.
By car from Cork take N27 towards the airport then R600 to Kinsale. From Bandon, take N71 towards Inishannon, then R605 to Kinsale.
1 Main town car park at the foot of Market Square is also the turnaround stop for the buses.
Walking should get you everywhere.
Local taxi companies are Kinsale Cabs +353 21 470 6853, and Cab 3000 +353 21 477 3000.
- Town centre has colourful narrow streets. St Multose Church (C of I) is a hotchpotch of most known architectural styles.
- 1 Charles Fort, Summercove, ☏ . Daily 11:00-16:30. Impressive star-shaped fort, built 1677-82 over the earlier Ringcurran Castle, and named for the restored King Charles II. It became known as the "new fort", complementing the older James Fort across the harbour. It was built to repulse seaborne attack but was overlooked by higher ground and vulnerable to landward attack. That enabled John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, to capture town and fort in 1690 in the Williamite Wars. Various repairs and additions were made over the next 200 years and it remained a British military base until Irish independence in 1921. It then fell derelict before being restored as a national monument from the 1970s, with an exhibition area in the former commander's quarters. In 2020 the guided tours, exhibitions areas within and admission charges are suspended (and no toilets), just stroll the exteriors. Free until 2021 then adult €5.
- 2 Desmond Castle, Cork St. Closed. Well-preserved tower house built circa 1500 by the Earl of Desmond as a custom house. After 1641 it became a prison mostly for Spanish and French captured at sea - in 1747 a fire killed 54 French prisoners - and later for Americans. It continued as the town jail for another century and was a workhouse during the 19th century famines. In the 1990s it was done up as a museum (including for a time as the "International Museum of Wine") but has been closed "for renovation" at least since 2010.
- 3 James Fort. This was built 1602-07 after the siege of Kinsale, over the earlier Castle Ny-Parke, and named for King James I. (Specifically, he was James I of England and Ireland but James VI of Scotland). It had a good range of fire over the harbour approaches from its "blockhouse" and remained in use when Charles Fort was completed. But after the siege of 1690, the new fort became the military base and James Fort fell derelict. You can stroll round anytime. It's only 200 m from town across the river but you have to cross the bridge, making it 3 km and a scenic turnaround point for walkers and joggers. Free.
- 4 Kinsale Museum, Old Town Hall, Market Square, ☏ . Tu-Sa 10:00-14:00. Small museum depicting local history. When the ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, most survivors and bodies were taken to Cobh. But some bodies were brought here and the inquest into the sinking was opened. Free.
- The Sovereign Islands are a pair of sea-stacks seen from the headland south of Charles Fort. They're a nature reserve and boats may not land, not that they could.
- Old Head of Kinsale is a spade-shaped headland 15 km southwest of town. The Signal Tower (daily 10:00-17:00), built in Napoleonic times, is a small museum with memorabilia of the Lusitania. On the "blade" of the headland are a ruined 13th century castle and a lighthouse. But there's also the Old Head Golf Links and the owners have blocked public access, in spite of protests and organised trespasses.
- Garretstown and Garrylucas are beaches west of the head. They're exposed, so they get surf, but may be too rough for family bathing.
- The Wild Atlantic Way starts at the Old Head. Follow it west on R604; at Ballinspittle the "castle" is just a grassy mound. Keep west on R600 to Timoleague. The headland and coast beyond are described under Clonakilty; only another 2400 km to go to reach the other end in Donegal.
- Sailing: the visitor marina is at Castlepark, across the bridge near James Fort. This was the old navy dockyard, with sailing vessels careened on the beach, but nothing remains of that era.
- Kinsale Beach is sandy but small, east of Castlepark village on the road to James Fort.
- Kinsale Harbour Cruises, ☏ . Apr-Oct daily hourly. Hourly cruises round the harbour, they don't venture into the open sea. Embarkation point is 300 m from Tourist Office opposite Acton's Hotel. Adult €14, child €6.
- Kinsale Golf Club is 2 km north of town on R607.
- Kinsale Angling operate boats daily for fishing or diving.
- Ghost Tour, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. May-Sep Su-F 21:00. A slapstick 90 min horror walking tour, though the only real horror is the bad puns perpetrated. It leaves from the Tap Tavern, see Drink. Adult €10, child €5.
- Historic Stroll Kinsale is a 90 min walking tour Mar-Oct daily at 11:15 from the Tourist Office. Adult €8, child €1.
- Dermot Ryan's Heritage Town Walk starts daily from the Tourist Office at 10:30. Adult €5, children free.
- Kinsale Arts Weekend is in July. The next is probably 8-11 July 2021, tbc.
- Kinsale Gourmet Festival is early October. The next is probably 8-10 Oct 2021, tbc.
- Cork Jazz Festival holds fringe events in Kinsale. The next festival is 21-25 Oct 2021.
- Kinsale Crystal, Market St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Artisan shop specialising in deep cut lead crystal. The founder was originally with Waterford Crystal before setting up Kinsale Crystal. You can also buy from their website, they dispatch worldwide.
- Kinsale Silver, Market St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-Sa 10:00-18:00, Su 12:00-17:00. Handmade silver jewellery with Celtic themes.
- There's enough cheap and cheerful places, but for a small town Kinsale has a surprising number of excellent gourmet places.
- Dino's is the place for fish and chips on the harbour, eat in or take-away, open 13:00-22:00.
- Rare 1784 at Blue Haven Hotel (Cafe Blue), 3 Pearse St, ☏ . Food daily 19:30-21:00. Smart hotel but it's the upscale dining that earns the best reviews. B&B double €180.
- 1 Fishy Fishy Cafe, Pier Rd, ☏ . Daily 12:00-21:00. Spacious indoor, balcony and terrace seating - but best reserve, it's very popular.
- Bastion, Market St, ☏ . W-Su 17:00-23:00. Acclaimed restaurant with modern European cooking.
- Mother Hubbards, 1 Market St, ☏ . M-F 08:30-14:00, Sa Su 08:30-15:00. Sandwiches, baguettes, salads and coffee, but it's the breakfasts that draw admiration.
- CRU Winebar (formerly Hoby's), 5 Main St P17 W284, ☏ . W-Su 18:00-23:30. Good bistro food in friendly atmosphere.
- 2 Max's Seafood, 48 Main St P17 XY07, ☏ . M-W F Sa 18:00-21:30. French-Irish style, great reviews all round for food, service and ambiance.
- 3 Jim Edwards, Market Quay, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 12:00-21:00. Popular bar and restaurant with good steaks and seafood.
- Black Pig at 66 Lower O'Connell St does modern European food. It's open W-Su 17:30-23:00.
- 4 Man Friday, Scilly, Kinsale, ☏ . M-Th 17:00-21:30, F-Su 12:30-21:30. Famous for its steaks, seafood and stuffed duck served in a gem of a restaurant with harbour views.
- 5 Bulman Bar & Toddies Restaurant, High Rd, Summercove (200 m north of Charles Fort), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. W-Su 12:00-23:30. Seafood and seasonal produce in a great setting. The bar often has live trad music.
- Spaniard Inn, Scilly (next to Man Friday), ☏ . M-Th 10:30-23:30, F Sa 10:30-00:30, Su 12:30-23:30. Pleasant old-world pub on Scilly Peninsula, the food gets mixed reviews.
- The Folk House, Guardwell P17 WD92, ☏ . Su-Th 16:30-23:30, F Sa 16:30-00:30. Friendly lively place with real ale, whiskey and live music.
- The Grey Hound, Market Square, ☏ . Su-Th 12:00-23:30, F Sa 12:00-00:30. A proper old Irish pub established in 1690. Has a mixed crowd from rugby/hurling fans to hippies. Tables outside, umbrellas and heaters for smokers. Usually sport on TV and a good selection of music if not.
- The Tap Tavern, 9 Guardwell (below Saint Multose Church). Friendly pub, has music on Thursday nights.
- Kinsale Mead is distilled on Barracks Lane. Tours are suspended in 2020.
- Blacks of Kinsale distill gin, whiskey and rum, and brew a range of ales. They're on Farm Lane on the industrial estate north side of town. No tours.
- 1 Dempsey's Hostel, Barracks Lane, ☏ . Clean friendly hostel open all year. Dorm €17 ppn.
- 2 Actons Hotel, Pier Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Well-run hotel overlooking the harbour, squeaky clean, with pool and fitness centre. B&B double €150.
- 3 Trident Hotel, World's End P17 NT38, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 66 rooms, harbor views, restaurant and bar. B&B double €150.
- 4 Friar's Lodge, Friar St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Simple B&B with 18 large rooms, a bit old-fashioned but welcoming and dog-friendly. B&B double €110.
- 5 The Olde Bakery B&B, 56 Lower O’Connell St, ☏ . Six quilt bedded rooms, 2 friendly dogs, cozy breakfast, cash only, non-smoking, laundry service available, double w/no bathroom €70, double w/bathroom €80.
- The Old Presbytery, 43 Cork St P17 AE80 (opposite Desmond Castle), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. This has closed as a B&B and is now self-catering. Open Mar-Oct, no dogs. From €200 / night.
- Kinsale Suites (Guardwell Lodge), Guardwell St, ☏ . A great budget hotel, with 44 rooms on top of a hill, but stark and somewhat prison-like, but modern and comfortable. Almost like a hostel, but isn't, no breakfast, all bedding provided, TV lounge, fully equipped self-service kitchen, quiet rooms are on the church side. €17 beds in 4-bed dorms, single €30, twin double €55, double with large bed €60, triple €60.
As of Nov 2020, Kinsale has 4G with Three and Vodafone, and mobile coverage from Eir, but there's no signal in much of the countryside. 5G has not reached this area.
- Cork city needs several days to explore, and another 8 km northwest is the famous castle at Blarney.
- Cobh and Crosshaven near Cork are small ports like Kinsale, but they'll feel very busy and urban by comparison.