Today’s post is brought to you by my good friend Darren Greenidge from Caliburnus Rises.
My good friend Russ aka Tony Soprano to his friends, asked me to write a guest piece on his blog so I decided as his is a food blog with a touch of travel then I will do one of my favourite place in the whole world and one I hope to move to permanently in the near future. Kinsale is south of the city of Cork in Ireland in the province of Munster, 17 miles from the city and 13 miles from the airport. It is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland and Keith Floyd, the flamboyant chef now sadly passed, once lived there and I believe had a restaurant in the town too?
The R600 leads you from the airport to the harbour town of Kinsale and as soon as you arrive from the top of the town your heart stops briefly, caught by its beauty momentarily. You drive down into its twisty little streets and for the first time it is disorientating for they are all higgledy piggledy and you just go around in circles. If you have ever been to Devon or Cornwall in the United Kingdom then you will know what I am on about.
Colours of reds, blues, and greens melt into an artist’s paint box of wonderful heart-warming delight and if you go down there when it is sunny you will feel more alive than you ever have done before. It will steal your heart in moments as it did mine and now Kinsale has my soul too and I am glad of it!
The people of this small harbour town are the friendliest you will ever meet in Ireland and their Cork accents have a sing-song quality to them that not only puts a smile on your face but also makes you feel at ease too. Walking around the harbour you feel a connection like no other as the boats bob and the bells ring on them. The gulls overhead squawk and dive and on a warm summers or autumn day, you feel so very alive. Kinsale has palm trees everywhere and gets a high percentage of warm sunny days. No wonder people move there and never leave.
The population of Kinsale is approximately 3000-5000 (figures taken from Wikipedia) of which around 9% are of British decent but you barely notice this. In the months between March and October which is tourist season the town becomes a hive of activity and it is very hard to get a place to stay, especially when they have food festivals on. I know it very well though having been going there regularly since 1996 so I am almost a local anyway. I know a few people there now which makes it all the better when back in town.
Its history is one of battles and sadness but always managed to rise above everything and become better and stronger than before. It is famous for the Battle of Kinsale which took place in 1601 between the English forces of Queen Elizabeth I and Phillip II of Spain who had his own reasons for helping the Irish against the all-powerful English might. His reasons were all to do with religion and military/naval advantage over the English so the Irish would have made a deal with a devil they did not know and lost one that they did. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t as the saying goes. In the outcome they lost anyway and England took back control of all it surveyed and led to the infamous flight of the Earls from Ireland to mainland Europe rather than face execution I expect from the English.
Desmond Castle and Charles Fort are rich in history and it is worth looking around them. The latter I have spent many a time walking around its grounds and ramparts and feeling its history. There is a ghost story (Isn’t there always) connected to the fort and many more besides in the town itself. I have included a few extra links at the end of this piece for you to look further into if you so wish.
Now to the important bit; the food and the pubs and bars of this wonderful town. As I have said earlier, if you go there in high season then every bar and restaurant is full to the brim with tourists, locals and city types on mission. I have my personal favourites of course and all are good for food no matter where you go. I usually stay in Jim Edwards Bar and Restaurant that is also a very good Bed and Breakfast. It has a small bar and dining area on the right entrance and a medium size restaurant on the left entrance. In the bar side they do bar snacks that range from oysters, monkfish, prawns, crab, sole and of course lobster that you can pick from a tank in the bar itself; all scrambling over each other. I have yet to try one. The oysters are a delight and I sometimes have them lightly grilled with garlic butter but if you are brave enough then they are stunning as they come. The food is very well priced and to think it is all caught by local fisherman for your plate.
You can’t go anywhere in Kinsale without bumping into a restaurant or a pub. You can’t go into them all but it is fun trying.
Another bed and breakfast I use is called Rockview and like Jim Edwards it does a mean breakfast. I mostly have the fry-up with Ballymaloe Relish and sausages, bacon and black and white pudding all sourced from Cork but you can have cereal and fish as well, usually smoked kippers. My mouth is now watering as I type and my legs are running to the airport!
The Spinnaker in Scilly, Kinsale, was another restaurant and bar but because of its position behind a few cottages, many I assume miss it which is sad because it is a little gem. I spoke to someone there recently and they said it has closed down awaiting a buyer but the website seems new and maybe they are back up and running? It sits right on the harbour edge looking out to the sea like the Bulman pub in Summercove.The trouble is half the businesses close down in winter so for seven months or so you have to make your money. Personally I would never shut it but these things happen. It could be a little goldmine and I have seen it open and close on many occasions. I just hope someone buys it soon before it is turned into a home.
Pub-wise I recommend the Bulman is Summercove, a short fifteen minute very scenic walk from town but if you wish you can get a taxi there and back. The walk is worth it though as is the food, drink and welcome that you receive there once you arrive.
Another is the Spaniard which is in my top five pubs of all time and is rich in history and character. It is one of wooden beams, low ceilings, great food and drink and a welcome so warm you lose track of time whilst in there. I have gone in for one pint, maybe two for an hour and four hours later I am still there. It always hosts a traditional music night and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It is home away from home for me like the Brazen Head in Dublin and Kyteler’s Inn in Kilkenny.
I remember once being in there and a man came in with fish on an October night and proceeded to cook them over the real fire burning and crackling away; handing them out to friends and strangers alike. He was obviously a fisherman judging by his ruddy red cheeks and lived-in worn face. He was brilliant as was the music and hospitality that night. The Spaniard is what most pubs should aspire to be.
But there is one pub that always steals my heart whenever there and I make sure that I end up there at some point in the night for it is legendary and a real traditional Irish pub also full of history and a very warm welcome. I have been going in there since 1996 and I hope to be carried out one day too!
This pub is called the Tap Tavern and its history goes back to around five hundred years or so even though when you are in there you would guess at around one hundred and fifty or slightly more. The walls are lined with celebrities who have been in there and even the Duchess of York has paid a visit as well as Neil Armstrong I think? There are astronauts on the walls and all have had their pictures taken in the pub with the owners Mary and her son Brian. I love them both dearly and they are such wonderful people. This pub to me is as perfect as can be and it breaks my heart leaving it. Brian does ghost walks and tours for the tourists and I have yet to join him on one if I can ever leave the pubs that is, especially theirs!
If you want a warm welcome and just a drink and a chat without all the razzmatazz then this is the pub for you. Live music is sometimes held and a friendly welcome is always guaranteed in the Tap Tavern.
I have not been over to Kinsale since October 2010 sadly but intend to go back twice this year and hopefully move over finally within three years should my plans work out to the letter. I have a three year plan and hope for it to work out to perfection. Kinsale will be my home very soon on a permanent basis. It is long overdue.
If you go then you will not regret it and please stop by all those that I have mentioned.
The links are as follows:
also a History of Kinsale by John Thuillier is worth a read and highly recommended.