Set on Kinsale Harbour, Charles Fort is a fine example of 17th century fortification in Ireland. Its original purpose was as a coastal defense against foreign naval forces. Because there is higher land inland, the fort is sensitive to a land-based attack.
Charles Fort and James Fort, across the water, form a gateway to Kinsale Harbour. Whoever occupies these points control passageway through the Harbour. The English forces won both sites at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, and soon after began building the forts.
James Fort is a regular pentagonal design with five bastions.
Charles Fort was influenced by European designs, especially those of Sebastien de Vaugan (1633-1707), who was the Chief Engineer of Louis XIV. The construction of the ramparts, bastions, and covered way at Charles Fort follow Vaugan's principles. But instead of using a pentagonal design, the fort shape was adapted to suit the landscape. The fort is a star shape with five bastions.
I opted for a self-guided tour. The main exhibition is in the Barrack stores. Read about the architectural history of the fortress. See the building plans and learn where the design philosophy originated. Learn the history of these men, see their worn uniforms, and get a feeling for the hard lives they led. Soldiers were not encouraged to marry, yet some did, and their wives accompanied them. See actual World War II camping equipment. Watch audio-visuals A Soldier's Life and Irish Soldiers.
I then freely wandered the grounds, visiting soldier's quarters and all the bastions. It is a great place to use your imagination.
Guided tours are also available, departing from the Gate House.
Afterwards, mull over your thoughts and a cup of tea at the Tea Rooms; they serve sandwiches and scones. Sit inside the pretty stone cottage with wooden rafters and white-washed walls or at the tables outside, watching the sailboats float by freely into the Harbour.
How to get there
Just 3km from Kinsale.
From Kinsale, take R600 road toward Charles Fort.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
Mid March-October, daily from 10AM-6PM (last admission 45 minutes before closing).
November to Mid March, daily from 10AM-5PM (last admission 45 minutes before closing).
Adult 3.70 euro
Senior Citizen/Group* 2.60 euro
Child/Student 1.30 euro
Family 8.70 euro
*Group Tours must be 20 or more.
Tel: +353 (0)21 4772263
Eilis O'Connell's sculptures on display on the fort grounds for Kinsale Arts Week. I really liked the juxtaposition of old and new - it lightened up the space for me. At first, I was reluctant to tour the fort because it was a material reminder of a long history of English oppression. It was the largest and most intimidating structure we toured in all of our travels, built solely for military dominion over the colonized lands and people. So I had a lot of negative emotions as I wander through the space.
I started to imagine the individual soldier's lives; how they mattered little to the war machine. Remembering the words to the Bob Dylan poem Masters of War, sung in operatic style at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry, the fort ruins echoed with the lives of the soldiers. The quiet quarters spoke of a turmoil and a might that they had been apart of, and that many of them had died for. It was eerie to be there afterwards, like walking a war-torn city after a bomb.
The sculptures helped bring me back into the present, widening my awareness that the fort is no longer used for defense purposes. Today, Charles Fort a place to wander into the past. It is also a place for tourists to sun themselves on the lawn, while kids drop their ice cream cones, and moms to drink tea and talk. I feel so thankful that the past is the past.
I sat at the Gate House on a bench, waiting for my travel companion to finish touring. The birds were making a lot of noise. I observed how they'd created a nest in the space. They kept swooping in and up to feed their young. Such fragile life, yet so resilient, hanging in the corner above the busy ticket office door.
Written by Liz O' Malley - Summer of Travel 2007