From Kinsale Chamber of Commerce
Kinsale has been a centre of population, trade and fishing for centuries. The combined attractions of a sheltered harbour, fertile land and abundant fisheries were not lost on the invading Anglo-Normans who, in the 13th Century, displaced the local Irish to establish control and create a medieval walled town on the shoreline. They forged trade links with England and Europe and became prominent in the wine trade. By the time Kinsale was granted its royal charter in 1333, it was already a thriving town and port.
The famous ‘Battle of Kinsale’ in 1601 saw the area become the cockpit of Europe with the armies of England, Spain and the Northern Irish Chieftains in contention. It was a turning point in Irish history as the Irish forces and their Spanish allies were defeated and the result, effectively, was the decline of the old Gaelic way of life in Ireland with the breakdown of the power of the Chieftans and Clans.
Though victorious, England was alarmed by the successful landing of the Spanish on their western flank and this led to the building of James Fort and later Charles Fort at the mouth of the harbour. Following the establishment of the Forts, Kinsale remained a garrison town and port of consequence for over 300 years, leaving a legacy of Georgian and Victorian architecture. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Kinsale was also an important naval base and ships were built here using timbers from the surrounding oak forests.
On May 7th 1915 RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Kinsale causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers off the coast of Kinsale. The official inquest was held in the Kinsale Courthouse / Town Hall which is now a Museum.
From the beginning of the 20th century, Kinsale’s economy declined and many of the its fine houses and buildings became derelict. However all was not lost – the story of the transformation of Kinsale from a rundown and jaded town, into a charming and prosperous one is a story of foresight, co-operation, but above all civic determination that began in the 1960’s and continues today. The establishment of the ‘Good Food Circle’ – a co-operation started between just two restaurants that grew to include a number of quality eateries – put Kinsale on the map. Kinsale’s Good Food Circle annual Gourmet Festival in October is a must for food lovers.
Following the success of the restaurants, came the revival of Kinsale’s history in the arts and crafts guilds. Pottery, silver, gold and glassware are all manufactured in the town, while the other artistic fields of sculpture, painting in all media, ceramics, wood turning and photography are well represented by inspired local artists. The annual Kinsale Arts Festival has grown from strength to strength in the past decade, attracting a number of international and national visitors to enjoy the exciting programme that has huge local support as well.
Quality accommodation, top class restaurants, exciting and delightful shops, cafes and pubs, together with the growing choice of leisure activities add to the attractions of Kinsale, a town that has cemented its place as a primary tourist destination and a sought-after place in which to work and live.