KINSALE, 25km south of Cork city, enjoys a glorious setting at the head of a sheltered harbour around the mouth of the Bandon River. Two imposing forts and a fine tower-house remain as evidence of its former importance as a trading port, and Kinsale has built on its cosmopolitan links to become the culinary capital of the southwest. Add in plenty of opportunities for watersports on the fine local beaches and a number of congenial pubs, and you have a very appealing, upscale resort town.
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St Multose founded a monastery at Kinsale in the sixth century, and by the tenth the Vikings had established a trading post. After the Anglo-Normans walled the town in the thirteenth century, it really began to take off, flourishing on trade, fishing and shipbuilding in its excellent deep harbour, which became an important rendezvous and provisioning point for the British Navy. The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 was a major turning-point in Irish history, leading to the “Flight of the Earls” to the Continent six years later which saw the end of the old Gaelic aristocracy: Philip III of Spain had sent forces to Kinsale to support the Irish chieftains, but communications were poor and Chief Hugh O’Neill, more accustomed to guerrilla warfare, was defeated by Elizabeth I’s army in a pitched battle.
In 1689 James II landed here in his attempt to claim back the throne, only to flee ignominiously from this same port a year later, after defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. His supporters fought on, however, burning the town and holing up in James Fort and Charles Fort. After a series of decisive attacks by the Duke of Marlborough, they surrendered on favourable terms and were allowed to go to Limerick for the final battle under Patrick Sarsfield.
During World War I, in May 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania off the Old Head of Kinsale, as it was sailing from New York to England. Twelve hundred of the passengers and crew were lost, and the sinking was a major factor in the USA’s eventual entry into the war.