KINSALE, IRELAND — If you’re hungry to experience a true taste of Ireland, then may I suggest you visit this historic fishing port that has become the unofficial culinary capital of the Emerald Isle thanks to its bevy of world-class restaurants and cooking schools.
Good food and lots of history. Wow, that sounded too appetizing to pass up. So during a visit to nearby Cork, where our son is attending university, my wife Rebecca, Ryan and I decided to take a day trip to this dazzling little town that sits strategically positioned at the mouth of the River Bandon.
The road leading to Kinsale from Cork, the R600, took us through little hamlets with lyrical Irish names like Ballygarvan and Belgooly and past lots of rolling green pastures dotted with sheep.
A salty sea air grested us in colourful Kinsale, whose Irish name — Ceann tSáile —means Head of the Sea.
Originally a Norman walled city that thrived for decades on its mackerel fishery, Kinsale has become a holiday destination for the Irish and foreigners, alike.
Above: Picturesque Kinsale is known for its seaside charm and incredible restaurant scene.
Because of its location, two forts were built here in the 17th century — the ruins of the star-shaped Charles Fort and the smaller James Fort were the main tourist attractions here until some exciting young chefs arrived and opened restaurants in the old buildings that dominate Kinsale’s downtown core. Food writers followed, quickly spread the word and foodies from around the globe have been coming ever since.
What they find when they get to Kinsale are some of Europe’s finest dining rooms governed by well established chefs.
The food scene here has naturally inspired a number of annual food festivals — the Gourmet Festival and the All-Ireland Chowder Weekend are the most prominent. There are dozens of restaurants in this tiny town and the best, according to the locals, are Fishy Fishy (our favourite), Bastion, the Folkhouse and Hamlets.
The official population of Kinsale is just over 5,200 but during the summer months that number doubles on weekends and triples during the festivals.
Above: The town's restaurants and pubs serve well-prepared meals with ingredients fresh from the sea.
History buffs have lots to chew on in Kinsale. We found Desmond Castle, a.k.a. the French Prison, especially intriguing during a tour. A warden (mannequin) seemed eager to sign us in to the eerie building that also served as the town’s Customs House.
The five-pointed star Charles Fort was built in 1677 and was constructed on the site of an earlier stronghold known as Ringcurran Castle. It sits directly across Kinsale Harbour from James Fort.
Other important buildings in Kinsale include St. Multose’s Church, which dates back to 1190, and the Market House, circa 1600.
The one thing we notice when we leave is that Kinsale makes us hungry for more.
Above: The rugged coastline in Kinsale is dotted with ancient castle ruins that keep history buffs amused.