This is the first in a series of articles about day trips you can take by car when you live in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. Today offers adventures: 1) Little story, 2) More old places, 3) Oddities from the past, and of course 4) Good Irish food and charming Irish towns. With a great landscape between, what more can we ask?
Although it is getting better all the time, road signs in Ireland are hit and miss at best. Do not assume it because you saw it on a road sign that your destination will be consistent on the characters thereafter. You have not made a wrong trip, just because the next character does not mention the place you are going to go. Generally, R numbered roads will have some selections. When a side street fuses with the main road when it is curving, follow the white line down the center of the curve instead of continuing straight. Visitors should keep in mind that roads in Ireland were determined by things like koveje, and if they come from countries with modern even roads, it will get used to.
Our route leads us from Kinsale at R600, around Old Head (R604) to visit the place where Lusitania went down, and on to Timoleague where we will see a ruined monastery. Continued at R600, we have lunch at Clonakilty. Then we get the N71 highway and make good time through Ross Carberry until we turn off R597 to see the rock circle in Drombeg. Coming back, just before Clonakilty, we turn left onto R599 on our way to Ballynacarriga. Our way diverges right from R599 on a big green silo, and we continue for another mile or more until we can see the old stone castle to the left. Proceeding a little further on the same road, we enter R586, and it's right, it takes us all the way to Bandon, and the signs are quite easy to follow through Innishannon and down the R605 back to Kinsale. If we go between kl. 9 and 10 in the morning, we will be home at noon. 17.00.
Mary in the Grotto and Ballinspittle Miracle – A short road south of Kinsale is the small town of Ballinspittle. Ca. half a mile before you get to town, you come to what is a major crossroads for this rural area. On one side of the cross is a large cave with a statue of Virgin Mary. In July 1985, many people saw the statue move and were overcome by a sense of peace. The result was over a quarter of 1 million people visited the site over the next couple of months, most of them brought some experiences from hope. You can watch the videos on You Tube.
Lusitania Memorial and Old Head – is home to one of the world's leading golf courses. 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 can not go on the peninsula, but no worries, park your car in the last right hand just before going down to the course. There will be a broken building on your right and the memorial to Lusitania's sinking, descended from this coast in 1950, killing 1180 people. You can go beyond the fields there to get amazing shots from the old head.
Timoleague Abbey – worth half an hour or more of exploration, you can park by the water and walk up stairs to the back of the ruined monastery. It was a half-hour exploration, founded by a Franciscan Order in 1240 A.D., although it was built in a place used for the monastery as far back as the sixth century. Do not forget your camera for this and if you're there on a nice sunny day, there's a party to take pictures.
Clonakilty – is a picturesque town close to the sea has won many awards in Ireland because of the consistent maintenance of its stores and its award-winning hand-painted Celtic signage for its businesses. A brief survey through the city for lunch is a good idea, but do not be too long as there are still two amazing places on our trip.
Drombeg Circle – is the best example of rock circles found in County Cork, although there are over 300 places in the county. Most have only one or two stones still standing as they either mixed up with plows for farming, or made good basic structures for some use and were moved. No one knows, of course, exactly what the purpose was for the standing stone circles. This was excavated in the 1950s and has 17 stones. The site is also home to the ruins of a stone cottage, which indicates that this area was inhabited for at least some parts of the year from the birth of Christ to the beginning of the seventh century.
Ballynacarriga Tower House – is not strictly a castle, though it is often called it. Built in the 16th century, it is best and easiest to find an example of a Sheela Na Gig in this part of Cork. My partner and I are hunting the Irish countryside to find and take pictures of Sheelas because they seem so interesting and mysterious. Believed to ward off evil, the bare, erotic cut stones come in women of all sizes and shapes and are often at churches. If you arrive at the Tower House at the end of the afternoon, knock on the door to the pub on the corner. Although it does not comply with modern standards, it is still a workplace, and the caretaker holds the key to the Tower House, which he will give you if you promise to unlock you and bring the key back. It is worth extra effort to go to the castle, climb gently up the stairs to the top area and see the old Celtic carving over the windows in what would have been their living space.
Enjoy the Irish countryside as you travel. Do not hesitate to stop and ask for directions if you are unsure where to proceed. Irish people are open and friendly to travelers, and often they are joke about how difficult it is to find something for the first time. Nevertheless, each stop along this route is worth the time and energy it takes to get there. I know you will find, like all the visitors I've taken on this route before you, it will be a great day.