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Kinsale Self Guided Historic Town Walk

Kinsale has always been a bustling port. It was a base for Ireland’s earliest settlers, for Vikings, Anglo Normans and later served for some 300 years as an important English naval base.

It was from here that James II escaped to France after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. Kinsale was also a port of call, in 1703, for the Cinque Ports, which carried Alexander Selkirk on board. Selkirk went on to be marooned on a Pacific island, giving Daniel Defoe the idea for Robinson Crusoe.

In 1601, Kinsale was the site of a battle in which English troops defeated Irish and Spanish opposition, resulting in the legendary ‘Flight of the Earls’, a mass exodus of Irish aristocrats to Europe.

Little wonder then, that the town has six heritage trails! Amongst the highlights is the 16th-century Desmond Castle, a three-storey tower house built originally as a Custom House and used in Napoleonic times to house French prisoners of war. Today, the building houses Kinsale’s Museum of Wine.

Outside the town, the trails fan out towards two dramatic forts flanking the harbour mouth. Charles Fort at Summercove is one of the finest examples of a 17th-century star-shaped fort in Europe, with 40-foot walls and several bastions cutting a dramatic dash in aerial photographs. James Fort, dating from 1602, holds the equivalent position across the harbour mouth.

Another notable building in Kinsale is the courthouse, now housing the regional museum. After the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, an inquest was held in this building, with Captain Turner giving evidence before a jury of shopkeepers and fishermen.

Today, of course, Kinsale is one of Ireland’s top tourist hubs. Visitors come from all over to enjoy its yacht-speckled harbour, Georgian and Victorian architecture and some of the best seafood restaurants in the south. Kinsale is as much a place, they say, as a state of mind.

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