SUBS Poachers Inn SIC
When visiting a foreign city many tourists orientate themselves by hopping on the ubiquitous bus tours. A sensible enough practice as you get a grand sweep of a city and a bit of history and culture too. For some reason we Irish rarely do the same in our own cities let alone take a tour of a small town or village yet this is really the most personable way to get to know a place. Especially if you are in the company of the likes of Don Herlihy of Don and Barry’s Walking Tours (www.historicstrollkinsale.com). Within a leisurely two hour stroll around Kinsale we get to hear how the vagaries of international trade, human frailty and the reliance on single products saw Kinsale rise and fall from a port of global economic importance to a relative backwater and back to a town of culinary note. Oh and that was all several hundred years ago. Still, it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Kinsale is an ideal spot for a tour of West Cork too, itself much neglected by Irish tourists, though many of the towns and villages have iconic status such as Bandon and Clonakilty. Start by snagging a room in the Trident Hotel which sits on the waters’ edge and boasts idyllic views of the busy harbour, cheery staff and a food offering that includes a cosy bar menu and high end dining. It’s worth checking out Cork’s Coastal Food Trails on the Discovery Ireland website before deciding your itinerary (www.discoverireland.ie/food). Like so many places in Ireland you risk returning from your journey and when you’re in mid-boast you get interrupted by those who’ve been to Kinsale before with a more boastful list of places you should have visited.
The medieval town has a long history of quality food and indeed wine. The great oaks that used to grow upriver were highly sought after by wine makers which makes the old Wine Museum less discordant (see www.kinsale.ie for visiting details). The deep, natural harbour made it an ideal final stop for ‘victualling’ on the way to the New World, when ships stocked up on food and water. It was also famed for it’s herring fleet until that market collapsed too. More recently the Bollinger Kinsale Gourmet Festival has placed it back on the map, now in it’s 35th year and scheduled every October you’ll find yourself coming back again and again. The event is high on fun, low on stuffy food snobs and delivers a rainbow of the finest seafood from Kinsale’s great chefs. Of course the thread that runs through the town’s history and links it to the present reputation is the teeming Atlantic oceans and the rich soil of West Cork which provide a cornucopia of delights. This means you’ll need to build up an appetite to plough through the food and there’s plenty to exhaust the kids too from sailing and fishing and seal spotting to exploring the rock pools at low tide along Sandycove and Summercove. Not forgetting the Old Head of Kinsale Golf Club where apparently prices have fallen greatly but the views remain a high point. The one spot I regret not getting to is only a 15 minute drive away. Ballinspittle. Apparently the moving statute has retired from duty, or perhaps everyone is now worshipping at the alter of Kinsale’s fine food.
West Cork Nibbles
Lunch in Richy’s Bar and Bistro in Clonakilty (wwww.richysbarandbistro.com) should obviously include some Clonakilty Black Pudding and following a wander around the vividly painted town it’s also probably time for a coffee and a sticky bun in Hart’s Coffee Shop for home baked style (Hart’s Coffee Shop, Ash Street, 023 8835583). On the outskirts of the town its’s worth popping into the extraordinary Scally’s Super Valu (www.supervaluclon.ie), where they showcase a stunning range of local produce as well as ready-to-go food created on the premises that tastes of the Irish hinterland where the ingredients are sourced.
Over in Bandon it will be hard not to bypass the Poachers Inn Seafood Bar and Restaurant where you’ll find yourself in a neat as a pin pub that will be hard to leave. Closer to the town centre in The Mill on McSwiney Quay you’ll find Urru Culinary Store and Cafe stuffed with kitchenware, food, wine, books and a scattering of tables to enjoy their fare. Right next door is the Urru grocery shop filled with the fecund harvest of the region. A couple of local apples should keep you going for the afternoon, small organic apples from Macroom or one of Con Trass’s Tipperary bruisers should do it.
Where to eat in Kinsale
Fishy Fishy, Martin Shanahan’s eponymous eatery, don’t miss the original spot either for some fast food with slowfood credentials www.fishyfishy.ie
The Blue Haven Cafe
Also a boutique hotel, a bar and a restaurant. Oh and yes, that great seafood you see on the shelves with the Blue Haven name, that’s them too.
Carole Norman’s popular and cosy restaurant has recently expanded to include a garden. The more cultural amongst you can pop upstairs to the art gallery which includes local artists as well as graduates from the Cork Crawford Art Gallery.
The Bulman Bar & Restaurant
The award winning gastro pub located in Summercove could act as your farewell meal on the way out of Kinsale. Mary and Pearse O’Sullivan’s hospitality and good food are as popular with visitors as they are with their fellow restaurateurs in Kinsale.
What to do
A tour of the Ummera Smokehouse in Inchy Bridge, Timoleague by Anthony Cresswell confirms Ireland, and possibly West Cork as one of the finest artisan producers of smoked fish.
The Lettercollum Kitchen Project
Set in beautiful working gardens the rambling house makes for a relaxed spot for beginner and experienced foodies alike. The weekend cookery classes with the charming Karen Austin in her cosy but impeccable kitchen are a real treat. Washing up ain’t so bad here either with the spectacular views. Don’t miss their shop in Clonakilty.
A visit to the Charles Fort at Summercove in Kinsale will deliver heart-stopping views of the bay and the sister fort of James Fort on the other side. The fort is one of the best examples of a star-shaped fortifications. Slightly different from the architect’s previous work, William Robinson was the architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.