Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Visit to Kinsale by the Cork Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society

Despite heavy rain on the previous day, the sun actually shone for most of the Cork Chapter’s outing to Kinsale on 19th October 2013.

The group gathered first at St. John the Baptist Church, courtesy of Fr. Robert Young, P.P.  This neo-Classical church was built in 1832 on the site of an earlier small chapel.  It owes its existence to Fr. Justin McNamara, parish priest of Kinsale, whose travels to Italy influenced his architectural taste.  He is commemorated in the church in a striking memorial by his friend John Hogan, the renowned sculptor.  The church is an elegant and beautifully crafted building, with outstanding plasterwork, attractive woodwork, galleries, memorials, all lit by tall clear glass windows.  The organ predates the church, being built in London in 1809 by Hugh Russell & Son and is still in regular use after a recent restoration.  Members enjoyed examining the details of this well cared for church, which was being prepared for a wedding later that day.

Flowers on the pews indicated that a wedding had been held recently in St. Multose Church, the next place that the group visited.  Canon David Williams provided an excellent tour of this beautiful building, providing not only fascinating historical facts, but also commenting on the practical challenges of caring for a structure of this age.  Parts of the church date to the 12th century and it has been much altered over the centuries. Cork Chapter members were fascinated by the many details in the church, particularly the fine 20th century stained glass.  One window was erected in memory of members of the Dorman family and of Lennox Robinson, author and director of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

It was then time for the Walkabout, led by Dr. Alicia St. Leger, which brought the group through part of the higher ground in Kinsale.  The first stop was at the historic Market House, dating to the 17th century and later used as a courthouse.  It is now a museum.  Then all climbed up to view the former St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy building.  The convent was founded in 1844 and the order was encouraged to come to Kinsale by Mrs. Burke, the sister of Fr. McNamara who built St. John the Baptist Church.  The convent educated generations of children and also had an important lace making school. The large, prominent building is now undergoing restoration.

A walk along the Ramparts brought the group to view the Southwell Gift Houses, a charming group of small buildings dating to 1682.  The almshouses owe their origin to Sir Robert Southwell of Kinsale and were originally designed for eight needy people.  There was provision also for an infirmary for the sole use of the Southwell family.  The houses were restored in the 1960s and still provide accommodation for the elderly.

It was a short walk to the Municipal Hall and Bowling Green.  The hall was originally the Assembly Rooms and the area was a focus for leisure entertainments in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The building was burned in 1922 and subsequently rebuilt.  This part of Kinsale provides stunning views over the harbour and it was interesting to look down on the many leisure craft that have largely replaced the busy fishing fleet of previous centuries.

Following a well-earned and delicious lunch at Acton’s Hotel, the group re-assembled at Charles Fort.  There the guide, William, provided an authoritative and most interesting tour of the late 17th century star-shaped fort.  Designed by William Robinson, the fort is one of the largest military installations in the country.  The fort’s walls were breached by the forces of King William III in 1690, following a siege.  Although the fort was burned during the Irish Civil War, some of the buildings have been restored.  The guide brought history to life, explaining the role of the different buildings, the lives of those men and women who were based there and how the fort fits into an international context.  All in all, it was a fascinating visit, helped too by the sunshine and the wonderful views from the fort itself.

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