This is the first in a series of articles about day trips you can take by car when staying in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. This days adventures offers: 1) a bit of history, 2) several ancient sites, 3) oddities from the past, and of course, 4) good Irish food and charming Irish towns. With fantastic countryside in between, what more could we ask?
Although getting better all the time, road signs in Ireland are hit and miss at best. Don’t assume that because you saw it on a road sign that your destination will be consistently on signs thereafter. You have not made a wrong turn, just because the next sign doesn’t mention the place you are going. In general, R numbered roads will have some markings. When a side road merges with the main road as it curves, follow the white line down the middle around the curve rather than continuing straight. Visitors have to remember that roads in Ireland were determined by things like cow paths, and if they are from countries with modern straight roads, this will take some getting used to.
Our route takes us out from Kinsale on R600, around the Old Head (R604) to visit the spot where the Lusitania went down, and on to Timoleague where we will see a ruined abbey. Continuing on R600, we’ll have lunch at Clonakilty. Then we will pick up the major road N71 and make good time through Ross Carberry until we turn off on R597 to see the stone circle at Drombeg. Coming back, just before Clonakilty, we turn off to the left on R599 heading for Ballynacarriga. Our road diverges to the right from R599 at a large green grain silo, and we continue another mile or so until we can see the old stone castle off to our left. Continuing a little way further on that same road, we run into R586 and, taking a right, this will take us all the way to Bandon and the signs are fairly easy-to-follow through Innishannon and down R605 back to Kinsale. If we leave between nine and 10 in the morning we should be home by 5 PM.
Mary in the Grotto and the Ballinspittle Miracle – is a short ways south of Kinsale is the small town of Ballinspittle. About half a mile before you get to the town you will come to what is a major crossroads for this rural area. On one side of the crossroads is a large grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary. In July 1985, many people saw the statue move and were overcome by a feeling of peace. The result was over a quarter of 1 million people visited the site over the next few months, most of them coming the way with some experience of hope. You can see the videos on You Tube.
Lusitania Memorial and Old Head – is home of one of a world-class private championship golf course. Old Head Peninsula offers much of the same beauty, if less of a scale, of the famous Cliffs of Moher. Because it is a private golf course, tourists cannot walk on the peninsula, but no worries, park your car at the last right hand juncture just before going down to the course. There will be a ruined building on your right, and the memorial to the sinking of the Lusitania which went down off of this coastline in 1950, killing 1180 people. You can walk out over the fields there to get great shots of the Old Head.
Timoleague Abbey – is worth a half an hour or more of exploration, you can park by the water and walk up the stairs to the back of the ruined abbey. Worth a half an hour of exploration, the Abbey was founded by a Franciscan order in 1240 A.D., although built on a site that was used for monastic purposes as far back as the sixth century. Don’t forget your camera for this one, and if you are there on a fine sunny day there are a feast of shots to be taken.
Clonakilty – is a picturesque town close to the sea that has won many awards in Ireland due to the consistent upkeep of its shops, and its award-winning hand painted Celtic signage for its businesses. A short investigation through town with lunch is a great idea, but don’t stay too long as there are still two more fantastic sites, on our tour.
Drombeg Circle – is the best example of stone circles found in County Cork, although there are over 300 sites in the county. Most have only one perhaps two or three stone still standing, as they either interfered with plowing for farming, or made good foundational structures for one use or another and were moved. No one knows of course exactly what the purpose were of the standing stone circles. This one was excavated in the 1950s and has 17 stones. The site is also home to the ruins of a stone hut, which suggests that this area was inhabited at least at some parts of the year from the birth of Christ to the start of the seventh century.
Ballynacarriga Tower House – is not strictly speaking a castle, although it is frequently called that. Built in the 16th century, it has the best, and easiest to find example of a Sheela Na Gig in this part of Cork. My partner and I hunt the Irish countryside finding and taking pictures of Sheelas because they seem so interesting and mysterious. Believed to ward off evil, the naked, erotically carved stone women come in all sizes and shapes and are often on churches. If you arrive at the Tower House in the late afternoon, you can knock on the door of the pub at the corner. While not kept up to modern standards, it is still a working establishment, and the caretaker holds the key to the Tower House which he will give you if you promise to lock up behind you and bring back the key. It is worth the extra effort to be able to go in the castle, climb carefully up the stairs to the top area, and view the ancient Celtic carving over the Windows in what would have been their living space.
Enjoy the Irish countryside as you travel. Don’t hesitate to stop and ask for directions if you are feeling unsure as to where you should go next. Irish people are open and friendly to travelers, and often joke amongst themselves about how difficult it is to find anything the first time. Nevertheless, every stop along this path is well worth the time and energy it takes to get there. I know you will find, like all the visitors I have taken on this route before you, this will be a fantastic day.