Kinsale: Ireland's Historic Harbour Town

9 November 2015
Read Time: 2.3 mins

For centuries it was one of Ireland's most robust military outposts, with commanding fortifications along its harbour used at different times to try to repel the British, the Spanish and smaller invading forces.

Amid the stunning countryside west of Cork, Kinsale is now up there with Ireland's most attractive and chic towns. Owning a magnificent location on hills that wrap around its pristine harbour, the town draws in well-heeled tourists who come for its famous seafood cuisine, sailing, hiking, golf and the history of its well-maintained fortifications.

Lined with boutiques, upmarket accommodation, fine restaurants and cosy bars, Kinsale has transformed from a military station into an example of Ireland at its most sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

 Kinsale is renowned for its many lively pubs (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

Overlooking the town, the well-maintained Charles Fort is a fascinating attraction and stands as a reminder of Kinsale's more turbulent days. Constructed in the 1670s, the fort was built in a star shape, a form of fortification that emerged in the 15th century to help combat the widespread military use of cannons in attacks on towns and cities.

One of the largest military installations ever erected in Ireland, it was the setting for several famous battles including during the Irish Civil War (1922-23) and the Williamite War (1689-91).

Charles Fort proved remarkably resilient, but these days it is easy to penetrate, with free entry for visitors who are allowed to roam most of its grounds, walls and chambers.

So striking are the views from the fort that it’s easy to be distracted from all this history and find yourself transfixed by the vista of sail boats and trawlers cruising in and out of Kinsale Harbour. Many visitors to Kinsale opt to spend several hours a day doing just this – admiring its scenery through the windows or from the decks of its many pubs.

 The historic Charles Fort in Kinsale (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

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Just a short walk down the hill from Charles Fort is the Bulman Bar with its unmistakeable bright orange walls and traditional Irish pub decor and atmosphere.

Like many of Kinsale’s wonderfully historic and authentic pubs, it has regular live music including 'Trad' sessions where local musicians are free to bring their instruments and join in impromptu, joyous performances.

Kinsale’s pub food is renowned throughout Ireland. In fact, the town is known as one of the country’s culinary hotspots. Given its coastal location, Kinsale’s seafood is particularly sumptuous, with most of its restaurants and bars offering a wide range of delicious fish and crustacean dishes.

Those fishing boats you see scything in and out of the harbour deliver the freshest seafood to local businesses. Chances are the Salmon, Lobster or Mussels served up to you will have been pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean earlier that day.

Tourists who prefer to catch their own fish can hire a boat and take to the seas by themselves, or join a charter boat for half or full-day trips.

 Kinsale Harbour is dotted with boats (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

Of course, there is no need to exert yourself out on the water – Kinsale has many pleasure boat cruises to show you the best of its sights and coastal attractions as you relax in a comfortable seat with a beer or glass of wine in hand.

Most of these cruises venture out of the harbour and past Kinsale’s spectacular Old Head, a towering rocky peninsula. Atop the peninsula is one of Ireland’s most exclusive and jaw-dropping golf clubs, the Old Head Links, an 18-hole course overlooking the wild Atlantic, which also has luxury accommodation and dining.

The club is a reflection of Kinsale – a place where human endeavours and natural beauty co-exist so easily. Few places in Ireland are as charming, gorgeous and fascinating as this historic harbour town.

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Ronan O'Connell

Ronan has been a journalist for 12 years, including nine years at daily newspapers in Australia, and now is a freelance travel photojournalist. As a freelancer he has contributed to almost 20 different magazines and newspapers across Europe, Australia, Asia and New Zealand, including The BBC, The Guardian, Travel Talk Magazine, For the Love of Travel Magazine, The Australian Financial Review and The South East Asia Globe.