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Things to See and Do in Kinsale and the surrounding areas

July 5th, 2023 1:43 PM

By Southern Star Team

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KINSALE with its idyllic location is a perfect place to enjoy the Atlantic ocean. If it’s just a simple walk along the harbour or adventure sports on the water, or even a day relaxing on the beach, the choice is truly yours.

Known internationally for its culinary and vibrant food scene, visitors will find a wide selection of cuisine to suit every taste, from Michelin star restaurants to family-friendly restaurants as well as food trucks on your door step. Kinsale is one of the most historic towns in Ireland, steeped in heritage and folklore, with wonderful tourist attractions such as Charles Fort, James Fort and Desmond Castle.

Here is our list of things to see and do in Kinsale and the surrounding areas, including Garrettstown, the Old Head and Ballinspittle.

This article originally appeared in our bumper Things to See and Do guide for West Cork in 2023. You can read the full guide via our ePaper at southernstar.ie/epaper

1. KINSALE ARTS WEEKEND

Kinsale Arts Weekend running from July 6th to 9th has a programme bursting with events over the weekend. Headline acts include author and poet Francesca Bell, singer Lisa Hannigan, actor and comedian Maureen Lipman and comedy circus group, Swarm. A wide range of events including art, dance and music will take place across both indoor and outdoor venues. See kinsaleartsweekend.com for the full festival line up.

2. KINSALE FOOD TOURS
Join Suzanne Burns on her highly entertaining food tours around the culinary capital of Ireland. Her walking tours run from Monday to Friday, while her ‘Foraging and Picnic’ tour takes place seven days a week. She has also started private picnic charters in association with Sovereign Sailing. For more details contact Suzanne on 085-1076113 or email [email protected]

3. KINSALE REGATTA FESTIVAL
Running from August 6th to 7th, the Kinsale Regatta Festival is one of the great summer delights in the town. From sailing regattas to mixed dingy racing as well as a long distance swim around Sandycove island, there is something for everyone at this ever-popular family event.

4. FARMERS’ MARKET
The Kinsale Farmers’ Market takes place at Short Quay from 9am until 2.30pm on Wednesday mornings. Here you will find another busy element of the town as local traders display their home produce, plants, fresh fish, home-made sausages, arts and crafts, baked goods and much more amongst the 30+ stalls.

5. RETAIL THERAPY
Kinsale is a wonderful town for quirky and cute gifts and great independent boutiques – a real treasure-trove of delightful shops selling crafts, art, books and clothing, from local fashion designers to more conventional outlets. Kinsale Crystal and Kinsale Silver have international reputations for quality craftsmanship and there are galleries on almost every street.

6. THE SCILLY WALK

The picture-perfect fishing village of Scilly got its name from the settlers from the Scilly Isles. It still has a romantic feel about it and is a magical location on a sunny summer’s day. You will encounter it on the way to Summercove village and the local coastal walk is popular with locals. From here you can visit Charles Fort, or continue along the harbour trail and the rocky shore of the harbour. On a clear day, you can even see the Old Head from here.

7. THE KINSALE HOOKER & MAST

The Kinsale Hooker monument on the waterfront is one of the town’s best-known landmarks. These days, it’s a magnet for selfies. The replica of the famous Hooker-style boat which dominated the seas of West Cork more than a century ago is as a great spot for ‘hooking up’ with friends – ‘See you at the hooker on the waterfront!’

8. THE MARINAS
Kinsale is both a commercial and a recreational port. The three local marinas – Castle Park marina, Kinsale Yacht Club marina, and the Trident marina – all offer fully-serviced berths for visitors. The busy Kinsale Yacht Club, close to the town, hosts many events – both national and international and welcomes sailors of all ages and abilities into its programmes.

9. KINSALE HERITAGE TOWN WALKS AND GHOST TOURS

Dermot Ryan has been offering guided walks around Kinsale for over 40 years. He is passionate about Kinsale and his walks are about an hour in duration and start from the tourist office. There is a small charge for adults but children go free. Failte Ireland approved. www.kinsaleheritage.com. See also Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll. Both tours leave from the tourist office. www.historicstrollkinsale.com.

The haunting and hilarious ghost tours after dark run by David Peare and Brian O’Neill are a real treat too. They operate from Sunday to Friday and meet at the Tap Tavern at 9pm each night. Contact 087-9480910 for more details and bookings.

10. KAYAKING AND KAYAKING SEA TOURS
It doesn’t take long to pick up the skill of kayaking and it’s a safe and gentle way for all the family to get out on the water. Learn with a tutor or, if competent enough, hire a kayak and explore the waters yourself. There are many inquisitive seals and dolphins to watch, crags and caves to explore, and great views of the town.

11. ORIENTEERING, ARCHERY AND ROCK-CLIMBING
Have a nose for adventure? Then try out the Kinsale Outdoor Education Centre – the one-stop-shop locally for action adventure. You can try orienteering in the woods, building a raft or even camping close by. Learn archery and ‘backwoods cooking’, or test your mettle on a huge zipwire, abseil down a rock or climb up one! www.kinsaleoutdoors.com

12. CHARLES FORT

One of the best examples of a star-shaped fort in Europe, Charles Fort is one of West Cork’s top attractions. On a stunning peninsula not far from the town, it features 6m-thick walls and five defensive bastions around its perimeter. The fort remained a British army base until Irish Independence in 1921. You might even chance upon a bride and groom as the heritage site has also become a very popular wedding venue in recent years. www.heritageireland.ie

13. WHALE AND DOLPHIN WATCHING

West Cork is now internationally-renowned as one of the best locations for dolphin and whale watching. Recent years years have seen some spectacular displays from these incredible species. Because the waters around the south coast of Ireland benefit from the warming Gulf stream, whales and dolphins are in abundance here most of the year. It’s not unusual to see friendly – and harmless – sharks off our coast, too. A Kinsale RIB tour will bring you to the outer harbour, to increase your chances of seeing some of our most interesting maritime visitors putting on great displays for their thrilled audiences.

14. ANTARCTIC EXPLORER

Few know Kinsale’s major place in global exploration, but Scilly in Kinsale is the location of the memorial which commemorates the Antarctic adventures of the McCarthy brothers, Tim and Mortimer. Timothy sailed with Irishman Shackleton on the Endurance and was one of six men, including Tom Crean, who made the famous 800-mile crossing of the Southern Ocean from Elephant Island in the Antarctic to South Georgia. The McCarthy brothers were reared in Kinsale near the estuary and both learned to sail at a very young age.

15. 9/11 GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE (RINGFINNAN)
The Kinsale Garden of Remembrance is just a few minutes’ drive from the town centre. The brainchild of Kathleen Cáit Murphy, who was a nurse in New York City for over 30 years, the garden lies in the townland of Ringfinnan. It honours the 343 brave firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11 and there is a tree planted for each of the firemen who died, as well as one for chaplain Fr Michael Judge. www. facebook.com/ringfinnan

16. GOLF

Golfers are spoiled for choice in the area with the Old Head of Kinsale and Kinsale Golf Club courses both within easy access.The Old Head of Kinsale is home to a world-class golf course and luxury accommodation which is on many golfers’ bucket lists. On a stunning clifftop jutting out into the Atlantic, with the remains of De Courcy Castle at the impressive entrance, a round of golf at the Old Head Golf Links is a rare treat for most. www.oldhead.com.

Of course, if your style of play is a little more casual and relaxed, you might prefer to visit the Garrettstown Old Head Pitch & Putt course, for an enjoyable afternoon near the beach on another very scenic site. For more information: 021-4778017.

Kinsale Golf Club can trace its origins back to 1880. It is 5km outside the town in a rural setting with stunning views of the countryside. It measures 6,935 yards and consists of two nine-hole loops, finishing at the clubhouse. It has hosted major tournaments including the All Ireland Finals of the Cups & Shields in its centenary year, 2012. The club has a full range of practice facilities including a six-bay driving range, putting and chipping greens, a pro shop and catering facilities. Attractive Green Fee rates are available. Situated at Farrangalway. www.kinsalegolf.ie

There is also the option of ‘Footgolf’ at Ringenane, if you fancy something a little bit different. It’s probably more a test of your footballing skills than your club action, but well worth checking out! See footgolfcork.com for more details.

17. FISHING
An angler’s delight, the nearby Bandon River has long been a popular destination with beginners and stalwarts alike. It is primarily a salmon and sea trout river, but you can also find brown trout here, from May onwards. Fly fishing enthusiasts will be thrilled by the location. For more details or booking enquiries, see www.bandonriver.com West Cork in general offers some of the world’s best deep sea fishing locations and Kinsale is no exception. Getting on a charter is a great way to enjoy this pastime with like-minded anglers or a group of friends. A charter can usually tailor a trip to suit your needs, whether you prefer to fish at sunrise or sunset, charter a full day out, or a short evening trip. Ask locally for details.

18. OLD HEAD SIGNAL TOWER & LUSITANIA GARDEN

The Old Head Signal Tower is just over 200 years old, having been built during the Napoleonic wars in response to the threat of a French invasion. The ground floor of the signal Tower tells the story of the towers and the Kinsale restoration. The first floor of the tower is devoted to the story of the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed during WW1 by a German U-boat on May 7th 1915. Lusitania wreck owner the late Gregg Bemis signed documents to allow the museum take ownership of the wreck.

The tower also serves as a panoramic viewing point with access to the roof platform allowing the magnificent land and sea vistas to be fully appreciated. It is an ideal point from which to view the protected bird colonies on the western cliffs including puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, peregrines and choughs, as well as the abundant marine wildlife.

A stunning ‘Lusitania garden’ was opened in May 2017 at the site, where a bronze sculpture bearing the names of all those who sailed on the Lusitania is a fitting memorial to remember both those who died and survived the tragedy. Plans are already underway to raise fund to build a new state-of-the art museum there also.

19. HIRE A BOAT
Fancy being the captain of your own destiny for a day? Then hire your own boat and head out to sea. There are a few operators in Kinsale with safe, steady, and fully equipped boats which are also easy to drive, so ideal for a novice. Take one out to go fishing for a few hours, or enjoy a romantic or family boat trip.

20. THE GIANT’S COTTAGE

In Chairman’s Lane is the ‘little’ cottage where the Kinsale ‘Giant’ Patrick Cotter O’Brien lived. He was born in 1760 and died in 1806. At a massive 8ft 1 inches tall, he was the tallest man in the world at the time. A life-size model of Patrick has now been donated to Kinsale Museum by local firm Graepels Perforators & Weavers.

21. SCUBA DIVING AND SNORKELLING
Due to its wonderful location, Kinsale is on the edge of an amazing underworld – below the waves, that is! Watch amazing plant and sea life in its own wonderful environment and wonder at the incredible colours that lie beneath. There are a number of approved PADI venues offering scuba diving and snorkelling trips.

22. HORSERIDING
Whether you’re a first-timer or a regular cowboy, there are plenty of horse-riding options in Kinsale. The excellent riding schools in this area offer the opportunity of a hack or ride-out along bridle paths, in addition to traditional riding lessons. www.kinsale-equestrian.ie

23. CHALYBEATE WELL IN THE WOODS
The Chalybeate Waters are located at the southern end of the Ballinspittle woods. Also known as ‘The Spa Bathing Bath’, the well has been restored and has a beehive-style stone roof to protect the healing mineral waters from the weather. The special powers of these waters were discovered in 1750 and many generations believe they have been cured of ailments there.

24. GET SPORTY
There’s plenty going on throughout the summer to keep kids and teens active at the Sáile Sports & Community Centre, with summer camps including Let’s Go activity camps, a basketball camp, a Just 4 Fun camp and of course the Kellogg’s Cúl Camps for GAA fans. The all-weather pitch, sports & community hall, outdoor tennis & basketball court and community room are open all year round on a pay- as-you –play basis. Call 021 4773929 for more or see www.sailesportsandleisure.ie

25. ST MULTOSE CHURCH

St Multose Church was built by the Normans in 1190 on the site of a 6th century church. Several victims of the Lusitania sinking are buried in the on-site graveyard and it is recognised as one of Ireland’s oldest Church of Ireland churches, with a well preserved exterior.

26. THE BATTLE MEMORIAL (‘BRISEADH CEANN TSAILE’)
An invading Elizabethan army defeated a native Irish force at Millwater Crossroads in 1602. To commemorate this, you can find the chieftain’s chair, or ‘stone of destiny’ at the crossroads. After the battle, 1,200 soldiers lay dead in the nearby Ballinamona stream where the millers at Millwater saw the water turn red, as their mill wheel was driven by blood.

27. HARBOUR CRUISES
Try exploring Kinsale from the water, but this time with someone else taking charge. Kinsale’s harbour cruises offer great views of the historic dual forts of Charles and James and let you view the town from a totally different viewpoint. Jerome Lordan, owner of ‘Spirit of Kinsale’, has been providing excellent commentary on these trips for around three decades. www.kinsaleharbourcruises.com

28. EXPLORE THE MAKING AND TASTING OF MEAD

Mead is considered ‘the drink of Celtic Ireland’s Kings and Chieftains’. Now you can spend an entertaining hour at Ireland’s first Meadery in 200 years, located in Kinsale (600m from the tourist office). Taste different honey types and learn about Ireland’s ancient bee laws. Explore the making of mead and taste some of their award- winning meads and cocktails. Contact 021-4773538, mail info@ kinsalemeadco.ie or book at www.kinsalemeadco.ie

GARRETTSTOWN | THE OLD HEAD

29. THE OLD HEAD OF KINSALE

This iconic headland features regularly on promotional adverts and videos for Ireland around the world, as it reaches out into the wild Atlantic. There is a majestic lighthouse poised at the far end of the headland which was established during the 17th century by Robert Reading. The Old Head is the nearest land point to the site of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, and the restored Signal Tower houses a museum about the tragedy, with a pretty memorial garden outside and a sculpture with the names of all her passengers.

30. TWIN BEACHES OF GARRYLUCAS AND GARRETTSTOWN
Twin beaches mean double the fun. Stroll the beach of Garrettstown and then move onto its sister strand of Garrylucas. These beautiful and very popular beaches – both with Blue Flags flying – are ideal for fishing, surfing, swimming, or just simple relaxation. The beaches are safe, clean and unspoilt and there are also a number of picnic areas overlooking the bay – so bring the flask! And if you fancy a sauna session, there are a few mobile operators at both beaches.

31. GARRETTSTOWN BEACH

Garrettstown beach has blue flag status, and a growing reputation for surfing, and especially for beginners. There is an on-site surf school, which supplies tuition, boards and equipment for budding surfers and body boarders. There are summer camps for kids and lessons for all age groups. There are also SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding) lessons available. The beach is one of the best serviced in West Cork – it’s easily accessible by steps and ramps and has full facilities and plenty of parking and toilets. www.surfgtown.com

32. GET YOUR SURF LEGS
Fancy getting a rush of adrenaline on a sea ‘horse’? Well it’s easy in Kinsale where there are many competent surf schools, all ISA (Irish Surfing Association) approved. Polish up on your skills or learn a new one. The area’s blue flag beaches are ideal for any water-based sport.

33. VIEWING POINTS FOR SELFIE KINGS AND QUEENS
Some of the areas around Kinsale are among those most photographed on the Wild Atlantic Way. From several headlands you can capture many miles of Atlantic coastline, with the Seven Heads to the west, and the Old Head to the east of the town. There are also plenty of spots for romantic walks, as well as budding photographers and, of course, the obligatory selfies!

34. GARRETTSTOWN WOOD & BALLINSPITTLE WOODS
A woodland trail runs from Ballinspittle Village through to Garrettstown Wood. Choose from two distances – the orange loop (1.5km) takes about 30 mins to complete or the blue loop (5.2km) will take about 1 hour 40 mins. Alternatively, stroll through the woods and then follow the road to the beach and back into Ballinspittle village. If you are feeling even more adventurous, then take a spur off the main walk to Templetrine Church, which dates back to early Christian times. This lovely wood was once part of the great Garrettstown estate.

BALLINSPITTLE

35. BALLINSPITTLE
Ballinspittle, or its Irish name of Béal Átha an Spidéil, (which means ‘town of the hospital’) is a pretty little village nicely situated near the award-winning twin beaches of Garrylucas and Garrettstown. It’s also the first village you will meet if you take a turn off the Wild Atlantic Way’s southern route, and it boasts all the crucial services like a butcher, baker, café, pub and many more shops.

36. NOHOVAL

Nohoval is another one of the friendly villages indicative of the many pretty hamlets in this region. The coastline here is rugged and wild, with charming sunsets and sunrises that are perfect for Wild Atlantic Way fans – and fans of photography. Expect to find many visiting snappers on this route searching for the perfect shot. They often make a beeline for Nohoval Cove – an atmospheric and pretty inlet, surrounded by crags and caves, but beware it can be slippy and the waves can be unpredictable.

37. BALLINSPITTLE GROTTO

The famous Virgin Mary statue in Ballinspittle celebrates 38 years this summer since it ‘moved’ and it is still attracting tourists to its little grotto setting. Almost 100,000 people visited this grotto in 1985 as word spread that Our Lady had moved. The beautiful and much-loved shrine is today a special place of peace and tranquility. But some say the best time to visit it is at twilight – to see for yourself if it still ‘moves’.

38. OYSTERHAVEN
It is believed that Oysterhaven played a key role in the Siege of Kinsale, as the inlet where English forces landed their supplies and reinforcements. Today, Oysterhaven is also famous for its watersports centre, offering a variety of aquatic and land-based activities to locals and visitors alike.

This article originally appeared in our bumper Things to See and Do guide for West Cork in 2023. You can read the full guide via our ePaper at southernstar.ie/epaper

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