Charles Fort – Kinsale

The final day of the road trip started in Bantry. We ate our cooked breakfast (served with flowers on the plate!) and were on the road by 11. In truth this probably never left us with enough time to do all we had planned to do, but 1. after trial by bog the previous evening we deserved a lie-in and 2. when you’ve already decided that there are places you want to visit that day then the schedule will just have to accommodate somehow.

It was an hour and 20 minutes’ drive to Kinsale from Bantry across green and rolling countryside not dissimilar to that of Devon. This detour to Kinsale, on our way to Cork, was a nice way to avoid the motorway although for us it meant getting stopped by the Guarda and their customs colleagues checking all foreign registered vehicles: as a resident of Ireland it is illegal to drive a foreign registered car.

Kinsale was a definite reward; pretty coloured buildings, very narrow cobbled streets and lots of yachts in the harbour. It was a major harbour long involved in constructing warships for the Royal Navy. The village was prosperous and still retains its seaside charm as gastro-eateries have replaced shipwrighting as the main focus of activity. That said, it was its history which brought us here.

Kinsale’s strategic importance as deep water meant that James I built a fort on one side of the harbour mouth and Charles II added a star fort on the other. The latter aptly named Charles Fort was cutting edge and designed to dissuade Spanish warships from berthing in Ireland, linking up with Irish Catholics and launching an attack on England. A huge metal line could be raised across the harbour mouth to prevent any unwanted ship from entering the harbour while being caught in the cross fire of James and Charles forts.

A great plan in principle except that the Spanish never invaded and it wasn’t until the Glorious Revolution (or the ‘War of the Two Kings’ as it’s known in Ireland) that the fort was put to the test. Occupied by forces of James II, it was besieged by the John Churchill (who was to become the 1st Duke of Marlborough and Winston’s great great great etc… grandfather) on his first independent command. Auspiciously, it took him 13 days to take the fort having previously taken James Fort, and turning its canon on the Charles Fort, and with the help of 3 Royal Navy warships rocking up in the harbour to pummel the fort from the sea.

Never attacked again its record stands at 100% failure rate. In fairness to the fort, the Duke did have the architect on his side and the fort’s land defences were never built as they were considered too expensive and the risk of land based attacks too remote! Still it’s one of the coolest castles I’ve been to and, apart from it being set fire to by the Anti-Treaty IRA, it is in really good shape and the views of the harbour and Kinsale are well, you can see for yourselves in the photos!

Entrance over moat.

Entrance over moat.

Not a bad spot.

Not a bad spot to relax

Imagine being the defenders and seeing 3 RN warships entering the harbour!

Imagine being the defenders and seeing 3 Royal Navy warships entering the harbour!

View over to James Fort

View over to James Fort

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Kinsale Harbour

Kinsale Harbour

Where the defensive wire could be drawn across the harbour.

Where the defensive wire could be drawn across the harbour.

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