Kinsale is the beginning of the “Wild Atlantic Way,” a stretch of road that follows the coast of Ireland from the south to the southwest and all the way up the west coast to Galway. The coastline is arguably the most beautiful in the world, and we were excited to begin our trek across the west.
Kinsale was voted the “foodie” capital of Ireland and we were looking forward to taking advantage of the fresh seafood and all the sights. We arrived in Kinsale, a small village of about 5, 200 people. After checking in to our AirB&B, we set out to explore our new town. We found the “Wednesday Market,” which had all kinds of foods and treats to be had. We ate lunch at a tent with about 15 choices of fresh salads, and filled up on something light and healthy (a nice change). Being later afternoon, we began our bar crawl as we explored the town. We stopped at places like Oscar Madison’s, the Kingsale Arms, and Kitty O’Sheas. We passed by Desmond Castle, a small castle which even served as a prison for French and American POW’s during the American Revolution. Up the hill from the castle is St. John the Baptist Church, which has the second largest organ in Ireland and is also famous for its ornate, plastered ceiling. Past this church, we got quite the workout as we hiked up the hill to the Famine Graves. During the 1850s, thousands of Irish died from the potato famine, and in this mass grave in Kinsale the estimate buried is in the several thousands. No one can really be sure which such massive numbers. We finished our first night by having some fresh mussels from the sea and fried calamari at Blue Haven.
Thursday came, and after a nice breakfast from our AirB&B host, we set out to explore one of the biggest tourist destinations of Kinsale: the Charles Fort. The Charles Fort is one of the best preserved star-shaped fort in the world. Built in the 1500s and based off of new defense strategies first started by the Dutch, the fort became most famous in 1601 when the Spanish began their occupation there. The Spanish, led by de Aguilera, teamed up with the Irish to try and defeat the English, William of Orange, and the Protestant grips they held over Ireland. However, poor coordination and lack of training led to the Spanish/Irish force to be easily defeated and the Spanish were sent out of the area. The fort continued to be used by many different factions up until the 1920s. Being off-season, Abby and I pretty much had the whole fort to ourselves and we had a nice picnic inside before taking the Scilly Trail back towards Kinsale. On our way back, we stopped at a couple fun pubs, The Bulman and The Spaniard. Like I’ve said before, everyone in Ireland is so nice and the bartenders and people we met there were quick to recommend more things to do and places to see. After a couple more hours in town, some drinks and crabcakes for supper, we began our trek home along the water. It was an eventful walk, as we came across two foxes on the prowl in two separate locations. Both of them seemed to be running right at us until they saw us, then of course, snuck up the coastal wall and out of sight.
The following day was our last full day, so we made plans to see the things we hadn’t yet gotten around to. We walked into town and got some lunch, and afterwards walked through St. Multose Church, which was built in the 1190 by the Normans. The church is most known for being the site of the coronation of King Charles II. From the church we walked to the fort that is located directly across from Charles Fort: the James Fort. The two forts, Charles and James, were built on the points that jutted out from the land and protected the round bay and town of Kinsale. James Fort, however, was completely destroyed and fell into disrepair. Only ruins are left, but the hike to the fort is worth it and it is free to wander around. We again, were the only ones there and we enjoyed a nice picnic overlooking the sea and Charles Fort. We walked the sandy beaches on our way back towards town (probably the softest sand we have seen this whole trip, unfortunately, in November). The two days of long walks and hikes took its toll and we were in bed early before packing up and heading to Killarney the following day.
We took our bus from Killarney to Cork and connected with our bus to Killarney. Killarney is the start of some of the mountains of Ireland and is also home to the first national park of Ireland. Being two outdoorsy people, we were excited to do some more hiking and nature walks. We arrived in Killarney after 5 o’clock and were ready for some supper after getting checked in. We went to Murphy’s where I had some corned beef and cabbage while Abby had some pork loin and potatoes. We had a nice, long talk with the elderly woman sitting next to us as we sipped on some teas and told her stories about our trips. She loved Americans, Germans, and had a strong disdain for a young lady who would always beg her for money on the streets. She was the sweetest, and again, like all Irish, was extremely nice and charming. Ireland was playing in the first leg of their World Cup Qualifier with Denmark, so we popped in to Courtney’s Pub to sit down with some pints and watch the match. We were sitting in a secluded area of the bar with a big screen with a group of about seven or eight guys who were all friends watching together. They soon caught on to our “out-of-town” accents and we began sparking up conversations all night. One, an avid better, loved the Kansas City Chiefs. Another, who looked like the skater Scott Hamilton, seemed to be the level-headed leader of the group who sort of took us under his wing. We shared stories of home, they educated us on Irish culture, and we had an awesome time with these guys the rest of the night. They solidified our friendship when they bought us a round and some potato chips for a snack towards the end of the night. The night turned very blurry, for us and the Irishmen, but it was one of the most fun nights out with locals we have had, maybe since Bruges.
We woke up with a small hangover from the night before, but nonetheless we were on our way for a hike through Killarney National Park. The first path we decided to take would go straight to Ross Castle. We followed the river, marveled at the gorgeous landscape, and made our way to the castle. The castle was closed for off-season, but we were still able to soak up the views and wander the walls. We followed a trail back and came across a meadow full of about 40 Irish Red deer. Nearing sunset, we watched them for a bit before heading into town for some supper. After a long past couple days, we were in bed early.
Sunday came and was our last long day in Killarney. We went back to the National Park and took another hike through. This time, we saw TONS of Irish Red deer. Some huge stags, bugling and calling to each other during rut, held our attention for quite some time. We were just amazed at how many we came across and how large they are, comparable to American Elk, but slightly smaller. We continued through the woods and spotted several Sika deer, a type of small Japanese deer that were introduced to the park nearly 200 years ago. The Red Stags seem to be found in the open meadows while the Sika are found in the cover of the forest. We saw lots of nature, birds, mountains, deer and more that made the day a memorable one. We headed back to town for some supper. We found the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder where we had some supper, I did a fabulous Irish whiskey tasting (falling in love with the 12 year aged Red Breast Whiskey), and we were warm, buzzed, and ready for bed before making our way home to pack and prepare to go farther up the western coast to Limerick the following day.