Set around a sheltered bay, Kinsale is a pretty little town of winding streets and brightly painted houses. It was once an important maritime hub and is guarded by two enormous forts that protect the entrance to the bay. Its strategic position means it has a formidable history with links to both Robinson Crusoe and the Spanish Armada, as well as the ill-fated Lusitania.
The town's history is revealed on a highly engaging walking tour with Don Herlihy or Barry Moloney, two of Kinsale's most famous guides. Their depth of local knowledge and humorous approach make the walk a highlight for many visitors to the town.
The tour begins from Kinsale Tourist Office, where either Don or Barry will meet you to begin your walk. The walk can be taken on a private or shared basis and lasts about an hour, depending on how many questions you ask along the way. You're led in inimitable fashion around the central streets of Kinsale, with Don or Barry stopping regularly to deliver a lively interpretation of the town’s history.
Through your guide's enthusiastic and entertaining patter you learn about Kinsale's past, from its origins as a modest fishing village to medieval walled town, ship-building hub and modern-day 'Gourmet Capital of Ireland'.
Kinsale sits on the estuary of the River Bandon. As you pass the waterfront, which teems with fishing boats and yachts, your guide points out the hilltop James Fort and the immense, star-shaped Charles Fort which were built to defend the town and ensure Kinsale's place as a global trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries — a time when a pound of cloves fetched two heads of cattle.
In 1601 Kinsale became a flashpoint in the fight between the British and the old Gaelic lords. A fleet from the Spanish Armada arrived to assist the Irish and a lengthy siege and battle ensued. Their defeat at the Battle of Kinsale led to the flight of many of the Gaelic lords and the end to the old system of rule in Ireland.
Barry or Don will go on to explain how Kinsale became a significant ship-building port in the 18th century and how many ships left here on privateering missions around the world. On one of these sailed Alexander Selkirk, who was later stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific for four years, inadvertently inspiring the tale of Robinson Crusoe.
Finally you hear about how, in 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Kinsale, resulting in the death of almost 1,200 passengers. Your guide also tells you about how the townspeople rushed to help in the rescue mission that ensued.
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