Must See Places in Ireland: Clonakilty
Five and a half years ago we reinvented our lives by moving to Ireland from United States. Among the things we love about Ireland are its historic places, charming towns, friendly people, and relatively gentle way of life. We have a short term let accommodation (apartment available for a few days at a time) in Kinsale and frequently help our guests find the best places to go in Ireland. This series of "must see places in Ireland" covers day trips out of Kinsale and other important sites we believe everyone should see while traveling in Ireland. This article takes a traveler out of Kinsale towards West Cork and encourages them to spend a day in the charming market town of Clonakilty.
We recommend that you travel in the loop going to Clonakilty in one direction and returning in another. Travel out of Kinsale, past the Trident Hotel, over the bridge and continue on R600 which is a fairly good, if curvy road. The sites that you may be interested in seeing, all of which have been covered in other articles, include a stop for coffee at Diva in Ballinspittle, a walk-on Garrettown's Beach, the abbey ruins at Timoleague, and then on to Clonakilty. Returning to Kinsale, we recommend you take the wider, if longer route of N71 through Bandon and Innishannon, where you turn off for Kinsale on R605. Both sides of the journey should take you about the same length of time which is somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour.
This area of the country saw hundreds of years of struggle between the Irish and English. Many families took advantage of the opportunity to own land, dug in, and created or reconstructed towns. Reading the history of Clonakilty and Bandon one sees a struggle for power that had both towns involved in insurrections, the most notable in 1641, 1691, and 1798. Michael Collins, who was leader of the revolution in the early 1920s lived in Clonakilty and attended a local voice national school. He negotiated the treaty with England, which made him unpopular with some of the Irish, and he was killed, not far away. A monumental statue to him by local artist Kevin Holland can be seen in the center of town.
It wouldn't be fair however to say that the history of Clonakilty is only in the challenges between the Irish and English, as it is also surrounded by dairy farms and the dairy industry has a significant history of its own. Starting in the 1970s when the farms were small, separate, and competing with each other, farmers in Ireland took on a very hard task of learning collaboration in order to propel their good to their current status. Irish dairy farmers compete with only New Zealand in the world market for butter and cheese. For more information on that transformation see the butter museum in Cork city, the subject of another must-see places article.
Clonakilty is known as a market town, and a center of traditional and contemporary music. The visitor will delight in how well the town is kept and its abundance in traditional Celtic signage on shops and restaurants. Visitors looking for music will find live music nights throughout the year, and many famous musicians live in the area. Ask in the local restaurants for current listings, but you may find traditional music sessions on Tuesday nights at O'Donovan's or Shanleys' Famous music bar. Clonakilty is also home to several festivals including the Motion Festival and Waterfront Festival in August and the International Guitar Festival in mid-September.
Anyone who lives in County Cork will tell you that Clonakilty is known for its black pudding which originated in Twomey's butcher shop on Pearse Street. The Twomey family hold fast to the recipe of spices used, and we find it really is better than any other brand. While black pudding may be an acquired taste for some visitors, we recommend it pan-fried with maple syrup on top.
Clonakilty has a lot to offer the visitor to Ireland. If you're interested in seeing life in this country as it is really experienced by many people who live outside of the city centers, Clonakilty is big enough to offer a few hours of rambling around, shopping, and talking to people. There's no shortage of variety for either food, clothing, or gifts and since it is a natural market town serving people in the area you'll be able to find some unusual and traditional Irish items not commonly seen in the touristy areas. If you fancy a bit of roaming on the beach then Inchydoney is just a short way out of town and is one of Ireland's blue flag beaches. If ancient sites are more of your interest, stop at the tourist office and they will direct you to a small standing stone area of just out of town in a farmer's field, and Ballinacarriga Castle with its Sheela na Gig, which have been topics for other articles.