June 7-9, 2017:
We really enjoyed Kinsale, a small fishing town on an inlet of the River Bandon. We had a lovely room at an Airbnb in a subdivision just on the outskirts of town, and only a 1-1/2 km walk to the town core. Again, we spent two nights here and it was just enough time to get a feel for the place, although a third night might have been fun. And if you’re a foodie, you’ll love the restaurants here.
We left Waterford in the late morning, and headed northwest for a little over an hour towards the small town of Cashel where we planned to stop for a tour of the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Rock of Cashel (also known as St Patrick’s Rock). Once again it was raining and the countryside ran from misty to totally socked in. We were glad we were in the car for much of the day.
When we arrived at the ticket office, we were delighted to find out that the first Wednesday of every month is free so we saved €14 (for one adult and one senior). The tour was excellent and interesting and the guide tried to keep us under protection as it poured off and on during the one hour tour.
I learned a lot about Irish history and how truly “multi-cultural” the Irish people really are. The island was originally settled by neolithic hunters and gatherers around 7500BC and during the iron age, they built large stone tombs which can still be found all over the UK. Around 1000BC, the Celts began to arrive from Western Europe and slowly the two peoples mixed, retaining aspects of both cultures, eventually becoming known as Gaels.
Christianity was introduced to these pagans around 400AD. We’ve all heard of St Patrick but I wonder how many people actually know anything about him? He was a real person, born in Britain around 387AD. At age 16, he was abducted by the Irish and brought to Ireland to work as a slave and a herdsman. In his misery, he turned to God, and eventually escaped at age 21 and returned to Britain. Years later, he returned to Ireland to bring Christianity to the pagans where he converted Kings (including the king of Munster at the Rock of Cashel) and built churches all over the land. Other missionaries came and many monasteries were built over the next few centuries.
While the rest of Europe was in the midst of the dark ages, Ireland had an enlightened focus on learning, art, music, and written language. It was around 800AD that the famous illuminated manuscript of the new testament – the Book of Kells – was written and illustrated in such a detailed fashion. You can see the Book of Kells in Dublin. The monasteries had great powers, owning large tracts of land, and taking care of the peasants within their stone walls. Many had tall round stone towers to keep watch for mauraders, and some of these towers can still be seen.
However, when the Vikings were finally able to build ships capable of travelling across the Scottish and Irish Seas around 795 AD, they ransacked the monasteries, took some of the Irish as slaves, and built large port cities along the coast. The interior of Ireland was still divided into sections and ruled by Irish Kings, but the port cities were controlled by the Vikings, and so, Norse blood was introduced. And although their power began to fade 200 years later, their influence can still be seen today in artwork and buildings of Ireland.
In 1150AD Normans invaded, first under the English King Henry ll, and then later, in 1185, under his son, Prince John. They destroyed the remaining monasteries, took land from the Irish and gave it away to their wealthy friends, and ruled the land for almost 800 years.
And so – the Irish people are a mixture of original Celtic, Viking, and British blood – how interesting! I liked that the tour guide said the country continues to evolve as they welcome new immigrants to Ireland, and stressed that their influence and culture is also valued.
But I digress – I was supposed to be talking about Kinsale! After our visit to the Rock of Cashel, we drove to Kinsale, found our B&B and checked in. Hetty was a wonderful hostess – super interesting and friendly. She has two rooms in her beautiful home that she rents out on Airbnb, both named after well known Irish photographers, Bill Doyle and John Minihan. Hetty is a Master Printer and has a darkroom in her garage where she does her amazing work, and many of the photographs adorn the walls of her home.
We had two nights in Kinsale, and both days we had a very late lunch and then went to a local pub called Kitty O’Se’s (pronounced O’Shea), where we listened to live traditional Irish music (called a Trad Session). The first night was a duo who sang folk music, and the second night had a 5 piece group playing accordion, guitar, tin whistle, bodran, and a few other instruments. They played a nice mix of instrumental music and vocals and my new favourite song is an anti-war song from the 1800’s called Arthur McBride.
On our full day, we drove around a bit to see some of the local sights. We saw (the exterior of) Charles Fort, (€5 fee), a star-shaped fort built in the late 1600’s, just a 10 minute drive on the south-east side of Kinsale. Later, we crossed the river and drove to the peninsula of Old Head. The coastal scenery was spectacular!
Next up: Kenmare and the Ring of Beara