Weekend Road Trip to Kinsale
One of the great things about road tripping through Ireland is the tremendous diversity of experiences to choose from. Whether you are looking for an outstanding outdoor adventure or a quiet cozy cottage pub by the sea to relax in while your Guinness settles in front of the fireplace, Ireland has it all. Its winding country roads connect some of the most remarkable villages and towns throughout the country and each offers its own unique flavor of local culture and custom.
This weekend I chose to venture down to Cork, the “Rebel County,” to the town of Kinsale. Kinsale is a fabulous and colorful coastal town of about 5,000 residents and about three hours south of Dublin by car. Steeped in history, this picturesque fishing village is the perfect place for a weekend getaway. There are several modes of transportation which will get you to Kinsale (which I will outline later) but for this particular adventure, the choice was a quick trip to the airport rental counter to pick out some wheels. I like this option from time to time as it gives you the autonomy to stop at points of interest along the way. This trip happens to pass right by Cashel in County Tipperary, so I planned to stop in, break up the trip and have a look around. And away we go!
The Rock of Cashel
The main road to Kinsale from Dublin passes right beside Cashel in County Tipperary. Cashel is home to the famous, Rock of Cashel, a national landmark and remarkable example of medieval architecture perched high upon the hilltop overlooking the town. This highly recommended stop is a great place to break up the trip, stretch the legs and tour the grounds for an hour or so before getting back on the road.
While on the tour, don’t forget to ask about the infamous Archbishop of Cashel, Miler McGrath, who is known for the dubious distinction of “changing codes” when it was convenient for him. What does this mean? Well, the Archbishop started his illustrious career as a Roman Catholic priest, but later converted to the Anglican Church. During his tenure, it is said that his religious persuasion would ebb and flow depending on which was more advantageous, performing ceremonies for both Catholics and Protestants, he was rewarded handsomely. He is still remembered by this interesting legacy today.
Rock of Cashel
Off to Kinsale
Time to get back on the road for the hour and twenty-minute ride down to our destination, Kinsale. Whenever I arrive in a town, I like to leave myself some time to get acclimated, find my accommodations, check in, sit down and get my bearings. For this trip, I arrived in town at 4pm with plenty of time to relax and then walk around town a bit before heading out for a nice dinner and some entertainment. Kinsale is the perfect place for this as there is a plethora of fantastic restaurants to choose from. I took a suggestion from a friend and decided to dine at The Spaniard. The Spaniard, with its old-world charm, has been around for generations and sits high atop a hill looking over Kinsale. Its name pays homage to the 3,500 Spanish who fought with an Irish alliance against the Crown during the Siege of Kinsale in 1601. A great recommendation and excellent meal. Don’t forget to make a reservation for this stop.
We stayed in the lovely Trident Hotel. The Trident Hotel is spectacularly set on the water’s edge in Kinsale, in a prime location for guests to enjoy the stunning views. Recently refurbished, the Trident has 75 guestrooms including an executive wing comprising 30 rooms and penthouse floor of 11 luxury suites, all with breath-taking views of the harbour and enchanting town of Kinsale.
Trident Hotel, Kinsale
Day Two: Time to Eat
It’s a Saturday morning and Kinsale is bustling with people making their ways to some of the many great breakfast spots in town. Yes, I said great! Sometimes Ireland gets a bad rap for its cuisine, but this is far from the truth. I can testify that over the last 20 years, Ireland’s culinary prowess has rivaled that of any other place I have been. One of the finest Italian restaurants I have experienced was not in Rome or Tuscany… but in fact in, Ireland! With its direct access to the sea and abundance of farms, Ireland is the perfect place for chefs to hone their craft with some of the freshest ingredients available, some quite literally in their own back gardens, making the farm to table experience much more attainable. Kinsale is a perfect example of this as the harvest from sea arrives right at their doorstep in the port. Be prepared for some delightful experiences here. That being said, I decided to keep it simple this morning and popped into the Cosy Cafe for a quick bite. Simple maybe, but prepared with love, it was a deliciously perfect way to start the day.
Time to Explore
Today I will be venturing out of the village to explore some of the surrounding area. There are plenty of things to do and see in this part of Ireland and with my appetite satiated, I set out for the coast road to explore. First on my list is something that many don’t associate with this part of the world. The Ringfinnan Garden of Remembrance. A solemn and beautiful memorial garden dedicated to Father Michael Judge and the 343 New York City Fire Fighters who gave their lives during the World Trade Center attacks in New York City on the morning of September 11th, 2001. This memorial is a beautiful, moving and quiet place of reflection befitting of the people it was put in place to remember. It consists of 343 trees, each baring the name of one of the Fire Fighters. Created by Kathleen Murphy who spent 40 years living in New York and was a nurse at Lennox Hill Hospital, to remember their sacrifice. Kathleen is also memorialized here as she passed away in 2011 after a courageous battle with cancer. This is a special place, dedicated by a special person and if you are ever in this area, it is well worth pulling in and walking the grounds. Kathleen did a beautiful job. This is a personal stop for me as well and I stopped in to pay my respects to some friends and classmates who lost their lives on that fateful day. Thank you for your service. We will never forget!
After some quiet reflection, it was time to say goodbye and move on to the coast to visit another memorial. This time, it is a memorial dedicated to an event that occurred just over 100 years ago off the Old Head of Kinsale. The sinking of the RMS Lusitania. This infamous incident which occurred on the 7th of May, 1915, 11 miles off the coast, not only changed the lives of many in this area but it sent shock waves across the Atlantic and is touted as one of the reasons the United States would join in the Great War that was raging across Europe. Sailing from New York and bound for Liverpool, the ship was struck by a German torpedo fired by the U-20. 1,198 people perished as the Lusitania sank beneath the waves in 18 minutes. Fishermen from the neighboring towns of Cobh (then Queenstown), Courtmacsherry and Kinsale all rushed to sea in a valiant attempt to save as many victims as possible. In the end, their efforts saved 767 men, women and children, including one Kitty McDonnell… my Great Grandmother. I can only imagine those people approaching the beautiful coastline of Ireland, knowing that they were nearly home, only to have their journey cut short by the perils of war. These towns have always remembered that fateful day and their heroic efforts both at sea and on shore were recognized on the 7th of May, 2015 with a centenary commemoration attended by thousands, including townspeople and descendants of passengers and crew. A fitting tribute has been erected on the Old Head of Kinsale beside the lighthouse. There is a museum there as well as a monument commemorating that one day in 1915. Worth a visit.
Moving on from the somber and somewhat sobering memorials. It is also time to remember that this is Cork… and Cork is fun! Beautiful, breathtaking at times and most of all fun. Its beautiful coastline drives take you past magnificent beaches and into some of the most fantastic little villages and towns in the country. Todays journey is going to take us into one of may favorites… Clonakilty. Birthplace of Michael Collins, home of the world famous, Clonakilty Blackpudding Company and site to one of my favorite music venues, DeBarra’s. Coming to this part of the country and not stopping in is just not acceptable. So, Clonakilty for lunch it is! The trip wouldn’t be complete without popping in to The Copper Pot for some local fare with some world class flare. I decided to go with locally farmed scallops over a bed of the famous Clonakilty Black Pudding with a side of greens followed by a serving of locally harvested mussels in a garlic and cream sauce. Then for the finishing touch, locally sourced, vanilla ice cream topped with fresh fruit. Only in town for 30 minutes and once again, Clonakilty does not disappoint. Now off to visit the birthplace of the “Big Fellow” himself, Michael Collins.
Michael Collins House
A hometown hero to many, Michael Collins was a prominent revolutionary during the early part of the 20th century and known for his involvement in the Irish struggle to achieve independence. As a captain in the Irish volunteers, Collins served in the GPO in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916. Following “The Rising,” he emerged as one of the leaders of the republican movement and later served in official capacities including, Minister of Finance and Director of Intelligence, an instrumental role during the War of Independence. When the War of Independence ended, Collins was sent to negotiate the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty where he was put in a difficult position of compromise. Collins conceded to the British terms which included the partition of six counties in the north of Ireland to remain under British rule. This concession was considered unacceptable by some of his comrades in Dublin and created a rift in the new Irish government leading to a Civil War between Pro and Anti Treaty factions. On the 22nd of August, during a visit to Cork, Collins was assassinated by Anti-Treaty forces. He was 31 years old. Collins believed that his concession concerning the treaty gave the Irish, “The freedom, to achieve freedom.” His opponents considered it a failure. Ultimately, the treaty remained in place and today, Northern Ireland remains separate from the Republic of Ireland. A visit to Michael Collins House is an interesting opportunity to learn about the history and tradition of the Collins family, who were dedicated to bringing freedom to their native land.
Statue of Michael Collins in Clonakilty
Now that we have completed our Irish history lesson for the day, it’s time to move on to a local mainstay and staple of the town… DeBarra’s. This is another “must stop” when in Clonakilty. Famous for its music scene, DeBarra’s may be one of the coolest pubs around. With contemporary rock in the back and Irish traditional sessions in the front room, it definitely has something for everyone. Its eclectic décor alone is reason enough to pay a visit and sit in a true old-style Irish pub. You might even strike up a conversation with a local or someone from Sweden for that matter as its patronage is a diverse as that of Irelands many small towns and villages. Legend has it, that when Jimmy Hendrix died, his bass player, Noel Redding needed a change and threw a dart at a map. The dart, landed on Clonakilty and off he went. Redding became a long–time resident musician of the pub and you can see his personal affects, including his bass hanging in a showcase at the bar. There is never a dull moment in this place. Please stop in and enjoy. Oh, and you might want to switch from Guinness to Beamish here as it is a bit more of a local flavor for this neck of the woods. Bottoms up!
West Cork Coastline
Back to Kinsale via Old Head
Time to head back to Kinsale for Saturday night. Backtracking my way, I travelled along the coastal road one more time, stopping to have a look out over the Old Head of Kinsale. It was a clear day and the views were beautiful. One of the great things about traveling in Ireland is that there are plenty of opportunities to pull over and just enjoy the scenery and fresh air. I chose to stop above The Old Head Golf Links to enjoy a look at the coastline. If you are a golfer, this place is for you. Its stunning views and magnificent landscape attract golfers from all over the world. Make reservations in advance and you are guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime. No golf for me on this trip but one of these days I will definitely get out there to enjoy a round.
Old Head of Kinsale
Fishy Fishy Saturday Night
Arriving back in Kinsale, I took a break to freshen up and get ready for my last night in town. I decided to take some of my own advice and treat myself to one of the freshest meals I could think of in Kinsale… seafood! And being that I am on a see food diet (that’s not a typo), if I see food, I eat it… there is no better place to visit than Fishy Fishy. A family run seafood joint that is run by Martin and Marie Shanahan. They started out in 1990 with a shop in town which was so successful, they decided to expand, like my waist band after this evening. Thank goodness for stretch pants. I cannot recommend this place more, the food is exquisite and the service is some of the best around. Fishy Fishy is an excellent choice if you are in town. Tonight’s delight, grilled organic salmon over a bed of basmati rice with a sweet chili coriander and ginger butter.
Saturday Night is Alive
After prying myself away from the dinner table, it was time to head out for the evening to enjoy some musical and revelry. There are plenty of choices in town and all you need to do is go for a stroll through the village and you are bound to find something from Irish traditional to Jazz or Rock, whatever suits you. One of my preferred methods of finding a good spot is to pop my head into a few different ones to see what’s going on and eventually you will find something or someone that pulls you in. Tonight, I will be heading over to The White House, which is situated in the center of town in an old Georgian guest house run by my friends, the Frawley family. I like to stop in here for a few reasons. The music is always lively, the people are friendly and more importantly at the end of a long day… it is centrally located. And being that I am hitting the road at a reasonable hour in the morning, I would like to fall into bed… oh and I am also staying upstairs which I may have failed to mention. So, as they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. It just so happens that in this case, the atmosphere and hospitality are a pleasant bonus. Thank you for the warm welcome, Frawleys.
The White House, Kinsale
Good morning! After a great night’s sleep, I awake to the bright sun of a beautiful Sunday morning. And after a long day of adventure, stuffing myself and the odd few pints at the end of the night, it is time for a fresh new start. It’s early enough and the weather is nice, so there is time to squeeze in one last treat that Kinsale holds dear, the Scilly Walk. This scenic pedestrian walkway, winds along outskirts of Kinsale village and out to Charles Fort, a 17th century strong hold on the coast. The full walk is about 3 miles and can take about 1.5 hours. The skill level is novice to moderate with most of it being paved and the hills not being too drastic. The views however, are spectacular. What better way to start the day than to get outside in the fresh air and walk off the previous day’s indulgences. So, after a quick glass of OJ and piece of toast, off I went. I highly recommend this as a way to start the day or even just for taking a leisurely stroll. The houses along the way are just as interesting to gaze at as scenery while you enjoy some time outdoors.
Time to Head Out
This is always the hardest part. Another great trip to Kinsale, one of my favorite getaways in Ireland. Now to jump back in the car and make for Dublin. However, if I were on and extended holiday, I would be extending it right out west to explore more of Cork and into Kerry where some of the most dramatic landscapes are yours to discover. I hope you enjoyed my little road trip to Cork. I’ll be posting more, along with some travel tips soon. Please feel free to contact me or one of my colleagues at Specialized Travel Services if you have and questions or need any assistance in planning a trip. We are happy to help! Thanks for reading and see you around Ireland!!!
Written by Brian Fitzgerald of Specialized Travel Services.
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Ways to Get to Kinsale
Kinsale is accessible from Dublin by bus or by a train/bus combination. Like any public transportation in Ireland, the major cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway act has destination hubs. So, if you were to make your way to Cork City via bus or train, you would then transfer to a regional bus or train if applicable. This is easy enough to do with a little reading and guidance which as incoming tour operators we are well prepared to assist you with.
There are also private “driver-guide” services available if you’d like to relax along the way while a local expert wisps you out of Dublin and down to the country pointing out things of interest along the way. These services are offered by us at Specialized Travel Services and we can accommodate anyone from an individual to large group in one of our cars or fifty custom coaches. We can also assist you with accommodation. We can help you build your own special holiday or you can choose from one of our ready made but customizable packages which are available for your perusal at www.special-ireland.com
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