This place, of which, from its very great antiquity, the origin is but imperfectly known, is supposed to have derived its name from the Irish Cean Taile, signifying "the headland in the sea," in allusion to the promontory called the Old Head, or from Ciun Saila, a "smooth sea or basin:" it is also in some ancient Irish manuscripts called Fan-na-Tuabrid, or "the fall of the springs." On the promontory called the Old Head, about 6 miles from the town, was an encampment, supposed, but on very doubtful authority, to have been the residence of some of the ancient kings of Ireland, of which the site is now occupied by the ruins of a castle built in the. 12th century by the celebrated De Courcy, who, having married into the family of the De Cogans, the first English grantees, became possessed of a large tract of country now forming the barony of Courcy, adjoining that of Kinsale on the south-west.
It appears from a very early period to have been a borough by prescription, as the charter of incorporation granted to the inhabitants by Edw. III., in the 7th of his reign, states in its preamble that the town "was surrounded by Irish enemies and English rebels, and that the burgesses had always obeyed the king's orders in repelling the same, who had often by sea and land assailed the town, the walls of which had become ruinous and the burgesses unable to repair them." Power was therefore granted to choose a "sovereign," to collect certain customs for repairing the walls, and to treat separately with or make war upon the Irish enemies.
John de Courcy having become lord of Kinsale and also of the adjoining castle of Ringrone, was succeeded in his estates by his grandson Milo, who near the latter place defeated Florence McCarty More and a large party of his followers, and drove them into the river Bandon, where many of them were drowned.
In 1380, the French and Spanish fleets were pursued by the English into this haven, where an engagement took place in which the former were defeated with great loss, many of their ships taken, and 20 English vessels which they had made prizes, recaptured. In the following year the inhabitants received a charter from Rich. II., granting to the "Provost" and Commonalty, in consideration of the insult they had received from the Spanish and Irish enemies and the English rebels, the small customs of the port, at a yearly rent of ten marks, the surplus to be laid out in completing the walls of the town. Edw. IV., in 1482, confirmed the charter, appointed the sovereign admiral of the port, with jurisdiction extending from the Bulman rock Innishannon; and granted the corporation all such rights and privileges as were enjoyed by the citizens of Cork. The inhabitants having countenanced the pretensions of Lambert Simnel, Sir Richard Edgecumbe arrived here on the 27th of June, 1488, with five ships and 500 men, to exact new oaths of allegiance from the Irish leaders; and on the day following, the townsmen, having sworn fealty to Hen.
VII. in the church of St. Multosia, and entered into recognizances, received a pardon; hut they were compelled by the Earl of Kildare to renew their oaths in 1498. The town was partly consumed in 1594 by a fire which destroyed Cork-street. In 1601, a Spanish fleet bringing assistance to the Irish insurgents entered the harbour and landed its troops, on the 23rd of September.
Immediately after the departure of the fleet, these forces, under the command of Don Juan D'Aquila, took possession of the town, which on their landing had been abandoned by the garrison, consisting at that time of only one company. The English army advanced on the 17th of October to the hill of Knock-Robbin, within a mile of the town, and commenced that memorable siege which has rendered this place so celebrated in the Irish annals. The castle of Rincurran, situated on the river, having been seized by the enemy as an advantageous post for annoying the English shipping, after sustaining for some days a severe cannonade, surrendered to the Lord-Deputy Mountjoy. The forces of the English were every day advancing, when, on intelligence that the northern army under O'Nial was in full march to join the Spaniards, it was resolved to divide the royal army, leaving one part under Lord Mountjoy to continue the siege of Kinsale, while the other, under Sir G.
Carew, Lord-President of Munster, marched against O'Nial. Sir George, after a harassing and fruitless expedition, was compelled to return to Kinsale. In the mean time the English received a reinforcement of 1000 men from England under the Earl of Thomond; 2000 infantry, with some cavalry, were also landed at Waterford, and 2000 infantry with a supply of military stores at Cork. Castle-ni-Park, a fortress on the opposite side of the river, was attacked by the English and compelled to surrender; but on summoning the town they were answered that "it was held for Christ and the King of Spain, and should be maintained against all their enemies." The northern army under O'Nial had now encamped within six miles of the town, cutting off all communication with Cork, and was approaching the English lines, when the Lord-Deputy, leaving Sir G. Carew to carry on the siege, marched against the insurgents with 1200 infantry and 400 horse, and routed them with great slaughter. All the Spaniards that had joined the insurgents from Castlehaven were either killed on the spot or taken prisoners; the enemy had on this occasion 1200 killed and 800 wounded, while, on the part of the English, one cornet only and a few privates were wounded. The Spanish commander, Don Juan, mistaking the vollies fired by the royal army in honour of their victory, for signals of the approach of the Irish forces, sallied out from the town to meet them; but perceiving his error, immediately retired, and on the arrival of the English before the gates, entered into terms of capitulation and surrendered the town, just at a time when the King of Spain was preparing to send large reinforcements, and to carry on the war with increased vigour. During the siege and the sickness that followed it, the royal army lost no less than 6000 men; but the fall of Kinsale and the consequent destruction of the Spanish power in Ireland, at this critical juncture, were the means of saving the country. On the first landing of the Spaniards, the burgesses delivered to Sir George Carew their charter, seal, mace, and royal standard, to preserve for them in safety; and on their subsequent application to him for their restoration, were told that he considered them as forfeited, but that he would write to the Queen in their favour. He was soon afterwards ordered to restore them to the corporation, on condition that they should, at their own expense, repair the town walls and find labourers to complete the new fortress of Castle-ni-Park, which they undertook to perform.
During the war of 1641, the Irish inhabitants were expelled from the town; and in 1649 Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice entered the bay with a fleet, in order to make preparations for the landing of Chas. II., but finding themselves blocked up by Blake and Dean, the parliamentarian admirals, they made their escape with four frigates to Lisbon; and on Cromwell's approach in the latter part of the same year, the town declared for the parliament. About the year 1677, the Duke of Ormonde erected for the defence of the town and harbour a new citadel, called Charles Fort. Jas. II. landed here on the 12th of March, 1689, and after being entertained by Donough, Earl of Clancarty, proceeded to Cork. On the 14th, an army of 5000 French landed here under the command of Count Lauzun and the Marquess de Lary, to join whom James sent as many of the Irish under Major Gen. McCarty. On the 14th of April, Admiral Herbert appeared off the harbour with his fleet, which the governor of the town, Mac Elligot, mistaking for the French fleet expected at that time, prepared to withdraw his forces that the French might take possession of the town, but on discovering his error he returned to prepare for its defence.
On the surrender of Cork in the following year, Brigadier- Gen. Villiers was sent to take possession of Kinsale, which was abandoned as untenable by the enemy, who dispersed their troops in the adjacent forts. Major- Gen. Tettan and Col. Fitzpatrick, therefore, with about 800 men, crossed the river on the 2nd of October and marched to the old fort of Castle-ni-Park, which they assaulted and took by storm; the garrison retired into the castle of Ringroan, but on their entrance, three barrels of their gunpowder took fire at the gate, which was blown up and about 40 of them destroyed; and Col. Driscoll and about 200 of the garrison being killed by the artillery, the rest surrendered upon quarter.
Charles Fort was then summoned, and the trenches of the besiegers were opened on the 5th of October; a breach was made and a mine sprung, but just when the assault was about to take place, Sir Edward Scott surrendered upon honourable terms, and the troops were allowed to march out with their arms and baggage to Limerick. Brigadier-Gen. Churchhill, brother to the Earl of Marlborough, was made governor of Charles Fort, and the town became the winter quarters of part of the English army; the walls on the land side were on this occasion destroyed by order of government. In 1691, the English and Dutch Smyrna fleets lay in the port, while the grand fleets of both nations guarded the mouth of the harbour. The importance of the haven was soon after manifested by its affording a secure asylum to the Virginia and Barbadoes fleets, till an opportunity was found of convoying them in safety to their respective ports. On various subsequent occasions, especially during the last war, this port has been a rendezvous for large squadrons of the British navy and for homeward and outward bound East and West India fleets.
The town is pleasantly and advantageously situated near the mouth of the river Bandon, anciently called the Glaslin or Glasson, which here forms a capacious and secure harbour. The streets rise in a singular and irregular manner on the acclivity of an eminence called Compass Hill, the houses ranging tier above tier, most of them on sites excavated in the solid rock, or placed on the level of some projecting crag; the descent is dangerously steep, and they are inaccessible to carriages except from the summit of the hill, or from the main, street, which takes an irregular course along the shore of the harbour. The total number of houses, of which many are well built and of handsome appearance, including the village of Scilly, was, in 1831, 1266. The town is indifferently paved, but amply supplied with good water from numerous springs. It is much frequented during the season for sea-bathing, and several villas and handsome cottages have been built in the village of Scilly and in the Cove, for the accommodation of visiters. It is in contemplation to build a bridge across the ferry on the river, from the town to Courcy's territory; and a new line of road to Bandon has been completed as far as White castle, within two miles of this place. The environs embrace some fine views of the sea, the harbour, and the estuaries which indent the adjacent country; the banks of the river are embellished with thriving plantations and with several gentlemen's seats; and around the summit of Compass Hill is a pleasant walk, commanding a splendid view of the harbour and the windings of the Bandon. On the east of the town is Charles Fort, commanded by a governor and fort-major, and containing barracks for 16 officers and 332 non-commissioned officers and privates.
There are two small libraries, supported by proprietaries of £5 shareholders and annual subscribers; a regatta is held in July or August, which is well attended, and boat races take place occasionally. A handsome suite of assembly-rooms has recently been built, and on the ground floor of the same building is a reading and newsroom.
The trade of the port, from its proximity to that of Cork, is but inconsiderable in proportion to its local advantages; it consists chiefly in the export of agricultural produce, and the import of timber from British America, and coal, iron, and salt from England and Wales. The number of vessels that entered inwards from foreign parts, during the year 1835, was five, of the aggregate burden of 1062 tons, and one only cleared outwards with passengers; in the coasting trade, during the same year, 62 vessels, of the aggregate burden of 12,753 tons, entered inwards, and 34, of the aggregate burden of 5201 tons, cleared outwards. The staple trade is the fishery, in which 87 small vessels or large boats, called hookers, of the aggregate burden of 1300 tons, are constantly employed, exclusively of several smaller boats. Sprats and herrings are taken in seins within the harbour and bay, as far as the Old Head; haddock, mackarel, turbot, gurnet, cod, ling, hake, and larger fish in the open sea; and salmon in almost every part of the river. The value of the fishery is estimated, on an average, at £30,000 per ann.; the Kinsale fishermen have long been noted for the goodness of their boats and their excellent seamanship: their services in supplying the markets of Cork and other neighbouring towns, and their skill as pilots, procured for them exemption from impressment during the last war. The harbour consists of the circling reach of the river and a broad inlet which separates the town from the village of Scilly; and though much less extensive than that of Cork, is deep, secure, and compact, being completely land-locked by lofty hills. It is defended by Charles Fort, nearly abreast of which is a bar having only 12 feet of water at low spring tides. The entrance is marked by two lofty lights, one in Charles Fort for the use of the harbour, a small fixed light, elevated 98 feet above high water mark and visible at the distance of 6 nautical miles; and the other on the Old Head, consisting of 27 lamps having an elevation of 294 feet above the level of the sea at high water, and displaying a bright fixed light visible at a distance of 23 nautical miles. Vessels arriving at low water and drawing more than 11 feet must wait the rising of the tide before they can proceed across the bar. The most usual anchorage is off the village of Cove, about a cable's length from the shore; but there is water enough for the largest ships anywhere in the channel of the river, which lies close along the eastern shore up to the town. The river Bandon is navigable for vessels of 200 tons to Colliers' quay, 12 miles above the town. At Old Head is a coastguard station, which is the head of the district of Kinsale, including those of Upper Cove, Oyster Haven, Old Head, How's Strand, Court-McSherry, Barry's Cove, Dunny Cove, and Dirk Cove, comprising a force of 8 officers and 63 men, under the superintendence of a resident inspecting commander. The inhabitants, in anticipation of assistance from Government, subscribed £4000 towards the erection of a bridge over the Bandon, the expense of which is estimated at £9000; but their application has not been successful. The erection of a bridge at this place would open in a direct line the whole of the western coast as far as Baltimore, comprehending 180,000 acres of a rich agricultural district, and greatly promote the trade of the port and the prosperity of the town, which has suffered greatly by the removal of the dock-yard and other public establishments.
In the town is a large ale-brewery and malting establishment; and in the neighbourhood are several large flour-mills. The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday; and fairs are held on May 4th, Sept. 4th, and Nov. 21st, for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, farming utensils, friezes, coarse flannels, and other articles. Two mails from Cork and one from Bandon pass daily through Kinsale. A chief constabulary police force is stationed in the town.
The charter of incorporation granted by Edw. III.
was confirmed and extended by subsequent sovereigns to the time of Elizabeth, who by patent dated May 10th, in the 31st year of her reign, confirmed all former privileges and possessions, extended the limits of the corporate jurisdiction, gave the sovereign and commons the authority of admiral, searcher, and gauger, from the Old Head to the Durseys; constituted the sovereign, recorder, and two of the ancient burgesses justices of the peace and of gaol delivery; and granted markets on Wednesday and Friday, and a fair on St. Bartholomew's day and for three days after. This charter, upon which the corporation acts and regulates its proceedings, was, together with all preceding charters, ratified by Jas. I., who, in 1609, confirmed to the sovereign and commons all their rights, liberties, and possessions, excepting only the sovereign's appointment of admiral, which he transferred to the constable of the fortress of Castle-ni-Park; and on account of their sufferings from the Spanish invasion, granted them an annual rent of £20 for 21 years, which was in part subsequently continued.
In the 19th of that reign a charter was granted incorporating a mayor, two constables, and merchants of the staple, with the same privileges as were granted to Youghal. All subsequent grants have been merely fairs or pecuniary aids, with the exception of a new charter by Jas. II., in 1688, which did not continue in force. The corporation at present consists of a sovereign and an indefinite number of burgesses and freemen, assisted by a common-speaker, recorder, town-clerk (who is also clerk of the crown and peace), chamberlain, two serjeants-at-mace, a water-bailiff, and other officers.
The sovereign and all other officers of the corporation are elected by the court of D'Oyer Hundred, consisting of the members of the corporation generally; and the burgesses and freemen are chosen solely by the council, which consists of the sovereign, common-speaker, and burgesses. The sovereign, who is a justice of the peace for the borough and for the county, and also coroner for the borough, is chosen annually on the 29th of June and sworn into office on the 29th of September; and the other officers, as vacancies occur, on the first Monday after Michaelmas-day. It is not known exactly at what time the borough first exercised the elective franchise, but it returned two members to parliament long prior to 1652, and continued to do so without interruption till the Union, since which time it has returned only one to the Imperial parliament.
The right of election, previously vested in the corporation, was, by the act of the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap.
88, extended to the £10 householders and limited to the resident freemen; the total number of registered electors up to June 1st, 1837, was 224, of whom 192 were £10 householders, and 32 freemen; the sovereign is the returning officer. The borough and liberties comprise an area of 11,000 acres, within the jurisdiction of the borough magistrates; a new electoral boundary has been drawn close round the town, including the village of Scilly, and comprising an area of 273 acres, the limits of which are minutely described in the Appendix. By the act of the 59th of Geo. III., cap. 84, the borough and liberties, for the purposes of county taxation, were constituted a distinct barony.
The corporation holds a court of record before the sovereign and recorder, or either of them, for the determination of pleas to any amount within the town and liberties, which extend up the Bandon river above Innishannon, eastward to Oyster haven, and westward to every harbour, bay, and creek as far as Dursey island.
Sessions are held twice in the year before the sovereign, recorder, and two associate justices selected from the elder burgesses, with exclusive jurisdiction in all cases not capital; and a court of conscience is held every Wednesday before the sovereign, for the recovery of debts under 40s. late currency. The town-hall is a spacious and neat building, commodiously adapted to the public business of the corporation, and for holding the courts of record and session. The borough gaol is also commodious and well adapted to the classification of the prisoners.
The borough comprises the whole of the parish of Kinsale or St. Multose, and a small portion of the parish of Rincurran. The former contains only 234 acres, principally in demesnes; the scenery is highly interesting and strikingly diversified. The chief seats are Garretstown, that of T. Cuthbert Kearney, Esq.; Ballymartle, of W. Meade, Esq.; Ballintober, of the Rev.
J. Meade; Rathmore, of J. T. Cramer, Esq.; Knockduffe, of Lieut.-Gen. Sir T. Browne, G.C.B.; Snugmore, of C. Newenham, Esq.; Heathfield, of H. Bastable, Esq.; Fort Arthur, of W. Galway, Esq.; Nohoval glebehouse, of the Rev. W. R. Townsend; Knockrobbin, of Capt. Bolton; Pallastown, of S. Townsend, Esq., and the glebe-house, of the Rev. J. T. Browne. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Cork, and in the patronage of the Bishop; the rectory is impropriate in T. C.
Kearney, Esq. The tithes amount to £33. 2. 6., half payable to the impropriator, and half to the vicar, whose income is augmented by an assessment for minister's money, at present amounting to £87. The glebe-house, which is near the church, was built by a gift of £400 and a loan of £360 from the late Board of First Fruits, in 1812. The glebe, situated on the western side of the town, comprises 3 acres. The church, dedicated to St. Multosia, by whom it is said to have been erected in the 14th century, as the conventual church of a monastery which she had founded, is a spacious and venerable cruciform structure, for the repair and enlargement of which, now in progress, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have granted £1361. It contains two handsome monuments of Italian marble; one to various members of the Southwell family, settled here in the reign of Chas I.; the other, which is beautifully executed, to the memory of Catharine, relict of Sir John Perceval, Bart., and of the same family: there is also a handsome monument of white marble to Capt. T. Lawrence and his lady, erected in 1724, with their armorial bearings. In the R, C. divisions the parish is the head of a union, comprising also the parishes of Rincurran, Dunderrow, and Teighsasson or Taxax. The chapel is a spacious edifice, erected in 1834 by subscription, and has an altar-piece embellished with paintings of the principal events in the life of Christ; there is a small chapel belonging to the Carmelite friary, also a chapel at Ballinamona. There are places of worship for Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. Nearly 600 children are taught in six public schools, of which the grammar school has an endowment partly by the corporation, and partly by the family of De Clifford, of King's-Weston, in the county of Gloucester, producing a salary of £ 50 for the master, who has also a large house, playground, and garden given by the Southwell family. A fever hospital and dispensary have been established; an institution called the Gift House, in which eight widows of decayed Protestant tradesmen receive a weekly allowance of two shillings, is supported by the Southwell family; and there is an ancient parochial almshouse, containing 16 rooms for superannuated poor, each of whom receives a portion of the weekly contributions at the church. There were formerly an abbey of canons regular, of which Colgan says St. Gobban, disciple of St. Ailbe, was abbot in the 7th century; and an abbey of Carmelite friars, founded and dedicated to the 2H Blessed Virgin Mary by Robert Fitz-Richard Balrain, in 1334 j but there are no remains of either. On the promontory on the opposite side of the river are extensive remains of the old fortress of Castle-ni-Park: it was of hexagonal form, with bastions at the angles: the towers, intrenchments, and fosse are nearly entire.
Of the town walls, which were destroyed in 1690, three of the gates were remaining till near the close of the last century; Nicholas gate was removed in 1794, Friars gate in 1796, and Cork gate in 1805; a small portion of the last may still be seen on the north side of Corkstreet; and in Newman-place may be traced the only portion of the walls now remaining. Near the village of Scilly, and also near Charles Fort, are valuable chalybeate springs, formerly much resorted to, and still generally regarded as an excellent tonic. This place gives the very ancient title of Baron Kingsale to the family of De Courcy, originally created in 1181. His lordship is Premier Baron of Ireland 3 he has the privilege (granted by King John to De Courcy, Earl of Ulster,) of wearing his hat in the royal presence, which was asserted by the late John, Baron Kingsale., at Dublin castle, before his late Majesty Geo. IV., on his visit to Ireland in Aug.
1821. He has also the privilege of having a cover laid for him at the royal table at coronations, and on all other state occasions.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.
The transcription of the section for this parish from the National Gazetteer (1868), provided by Colin Hinson.
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