On the sunday of our Cork trip, we headed to Kinsale and visited the old army barracks ruins called Charles Fort. It is a star shaped military fort dating back to the 17th century. It is located close to the picturesque Summer Cove village and looks out onto Kinsale harbour. The fort was built in the 1670s and 1680s to a star fortification design – a layout specifically designed to resist attack by cannon.(i)
It is run by the Office of Public Works and admission was 4 euro each. One of the buildings has been renovated and houses a multi-media exhibition centre and some old artifacts. You can find out directions and opening hours on the OPW website here.
Also, there was an exhibition on the Connaught Rangers, as one of their battalions was based at Charles Fort during World War 1, new recruits were trained here before been deployed. This was interesting to me, as my Great Grandfather, Charles Kerrigan was in the Connaught Rangers, which is another interesting story altogether, which I will have to blog about in the future
It was handed over by the British Army, to the Irish free state after the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in 1921 and the following year during the Civil war it was burnt down.
We got some tea and scones in the cafe onsite, which is located in one of the old buildings. If you are in the area, it is well worth a visit, it has an interesting military history and you can wander around the various remains of the old barrack buildings, plus the beautiful view looking out onto Kinsale harbour.
On the Friday evening after St Patrick’s day, we drove onto Cobh for a night and stayed in the Commodore hotel, this old world hotel overlooks the promenade in Cobh. Our room was spacious and had high ceilings and big sash windows, although they probably could do with a visit from Francis Brennan! The hotel reminded me of the TV show Boardwalk Empire. It is situated overlooking the main promenade and the harbour. I thought about how many people might have stayed in this very hotel, before heading off to America and never seeing Ireland again. The next morning at the Queenstown heritage centre, I found out that, survivors from the torpedoed Lusitania ship, were put up in the hotel in 1915, when it was called the Queens hotel.
On Saturday morning, we visited the Queenstown Heritage centre in Cobh, which is housed in the old Victorian railway station. This was my second favourite place to visit on our Cork trip. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot but it was huge and had lots of displays about Cobh and emigration to America and Australia and they had recreated models of the ships with passengers in steerage and convicts been transported to Australia. The heritage centre also looks at the Lusitania and Titanic and other ships which picked up passengers from the port of Cobh.
Later that same morning, we did a walking tour of Cobh with Pat from the Cobh guided walking tours. I love getting walking tours as you take in more than if you were just reading it yourself. We heard about the Lusitania and got a brief history of Cobh, also interesting for us, as we had heard of this person the week before, when we did a tour of Sligo Gaol, was the boxer Jack Doyle, who I learnt was originally from Cobh and in our hotel they had photos of him as he use to stay there with his movie star wife Movida back in the 1930’s. Movida later went onto marry Marlon Brando.
There is a nice art mural to their famous Cobh son up on the hill near St Coleman’s Cathedral. Jack’s story is one of rags to riches and back to rags again, although he always dressed like a movie star with a red carnation in his lapel. When Jack died in 1978, local people raised funds to bring him home and he is buried in the local cemetery, which we also visited. His life story could be turned into a very interesting movie someday. RTE made a radio documentary on his life a few years ago, called the Gorgeous Gael, which you can listen to here from within Ireland.
After lunch, we decided to go to the Titanic museum, called the Titanic Experience, it is based in the original White Star line ticket office, which is a prominent white building in the centre of Cobh, overlooking the harbour. The Titanic Experience is more like a slick movie presentation than a museum, it felt a bit like going to the cinema. You get a travel ticket on the way in, which has the name of a passenger who originally got on the Titanic at Cobh in 1912 and at the end, you can check if you survived. I had a girl from Longford who survived and Richard had a man from Meath who died in the sinking. We were also brought out to the balcony at the back of the building, which is where the first and second class passengers departed from, the area below the balcony was where the third class passengers waited, before getting on the two tender boats, called SS America and SS Ireland, which ferried them out to the Titanic.
I really enjoyed our time in Cobh, it is a beautiful picturesque town, with the harbour and old 19th century buildings on the main street and the view from above the town from St Coleman’s Cathedral is fantastic. Also, as I’m a fan of street art it was a nice surprise to find the Jack Doyle and Titanic street art murals.
We spent a week travelling around Cork, focusing on the Kinsale to Kenmare coastal route which is now part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
We started off our trip in Cork city and spent two nights here over St Patrick’s. We stayed at Gabriel’s Guest house, which is a large old period house which looks like it might have been used as a convent in the past. The guest house is situated on a hill on Summerhill North street, we had a room with a view, looking down on Kent train station and the harbour. The room was really modern and the location was great, I would stay here again.
On St Patrick’s day, we headed to Cork city Gaol, which was my favourite place to visit on the trip. Cork city Gaol opened in 1824 and housed men, women and even children for a time, it finally closed in 1923. The old jail which is now open to the public as a museum, takes you through the Victorian wing of the old prison. There are waxwork models of prisoners in their cells and prison guards watching over them.
We did the audio tour, which I recommend to do and walked around the prison and into different cells where the story of former prisoners are told. We really enjoyed our visit to the prison, it was really interesting from a social history perspective, most of the prisoners were imprisoned for charges related to poverty, vagrancy and theft of food. We also saw the cells where Republican prisoners were imprisoned during the War of Independence and Civil War, Countess Markievicz was also imprisoned here.
You can find out more about visiting Cork city Gaol on their website here.
After visiting the prison, we walked back into town in time to catch some of the parade, then we headed off and drove to Blarney Castle, located about 8 kilometers from Cork city, in the village of Blarney. We were going to skip Blarney but I’m glad we didn’t as the gardens are worth the visit and climbing up the steep narrow steps to the top of the castle for the view is worth it. We didn’t actually kiss the blarney stone but the view was worth the climb up alone. That night we went back to Cork city and went for drinks in the Old Oak pub and An Bodhran pub.
On Friday morning, feeling a bit worse for wear, we strolled around Cork city to get some fresh air and browsed around the English Market. We left Cork city and drove to Fota Island resort and treated ourselves to lunch in the Amber restaurant and then we headed over to the Fota Island Wildlife Safari park. If you have kids and or like zoos you’ll enjoy this, the weather was the best of our trip on this day and it was ideal for walking around and seeing the animals. There is also the Fota regency period house, you can visit, but this was closed until after Easter.
All in all, our first two days in Cork, were jam packed and we saw lots of interesting places and it was only the start of our Cork trip.