A Quarantine day trip to Charlesfort

 

 

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Ordinarily at this time of year I am busy guiding with Trafalgar Tours and bringing guests to all parts of the country but I am blessed to have many beautiful and indeed historic spots close to home also. One such spot is Charlesfort, an ancient coastal fortification situated adjacent to the little village of Summercove in the kinsale hinterland.


We are still pretty restricted in our movements here but the weather is beautiful and the coast is always a big draw for locals in the nice weather. It was great to see so many kids and teenagers cycling around and enjoying the great outdoors. I hope that they will have many happy memories of this strange interlude in all our lives.

Charlesfort was built during the reign of Charles ii, between 1677 and 1682, and sits across the harbour from Jamesfort, an older fortification dating from the early years of the 17th century ( built 1602-07). It was essentially built to cement the rule of British rule in Ireland. Spanish troops had occupied Kinsale in 1601 prior to the Battle of Kinsale and Ireland’s coast was seen as especially vulnerable to attack by either French or Spanish forces who the Catholic Irish felt much affinity with. Indeed the French did send troops to Kinsale in 1689 in support of the Catholic claimant on the British crown, James ii –  ultimately defeated by William of orange at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Subsequent to this, the city of Cork and then Charlesfort, home to defeated Jacobite troops, were successfully besieged by the Williamite forces. The defeated Jacobite troops were ultimately given safe passage to Limerick and then on to Europe but as we say in Irish – sin sceal eile ( thats another story ).

It was designed by William Robinson and contains elements of a star fortification and was built as a fortification against sea invasion. The star fortification gave greater protection from cannon and the position at the mouth of the harbour gave control of the harbour. It was, however, vulnerable to attack from the land as proved by the Williamite forces in 1690. The walls are hugely impressive and up to six meters thick in places and would have been constantly patrolled. It is nice to visit Charlesfort as the imagination can really fill in the blanks and bring you back in time to the 17th century.

The fort remained a military installation under British control until the Irish war of independence in 1921 and was then burned in 1922 during the Irish civil war. Another sceal eile !

But the dramatic history of Charlesfort has yet another colourful and dramatic when it briefly became home to a hippie community in the 1960’s which prompted the state to become more involved in the managing of the heritage site and bringing it under the management of the office of public works who manage a visitor centre on-site as a tourist attraction. Of course it is closed at present but it is still a wonderful place to visit affording beautiful views of the ocean, a nice swimming spot at high tide and a lovely walkway off to the left of the fort. For access to the swim spot and the walk, simply park your car and navigate around to the left of the fort down to the sea. You couldn’t miss it !

Here are some photo’s from around the fort.

Alan is a travel director with Trafalgar Tours based in Ireland.


 

 

A history of the railway in Ireland

I love trains. I think they are beautiful. They seem to both rumble and ghost across the countryside. Travel is both luxurious and communal.


They echo with the spirit of an earlier time; a time when rail was the only way to get people and goods around,  a time when travel was sacred and special and new, a time when people moved less and lived at home more. I’m not romanticising it and believe me, Id take the excitement and possibility of travel today over the highly questionable romance of a circumscribed provincial life any day and yet and yet…

I get on a train and a part of me tells me this is the way travel ought to be and I cant help but sink slightly into the romance of the past.

And the railroads are a romance. They hail from the great romantic age itself when composers wrote symphonies for nature, novelists gave us great epic tales of love, adventure and exploration and artists gave us extravagant views of the self and the possibilities of art, romance and nationalism to lift us out of the ordinary and the mundane. Art as an answer.

And perhaps in a way, railways were a question. The landscape opened up, industry and capitalism were made possible. The horizon of the individual ( or at least the middle class individual) broadened considerably. What was humanity to make of this new world ?The artists were pushed into the secular, material world of possibility and opportunity like everyone else. Thus Berlioz was entranced by the spectacle of Shakespearean theatre and Mendelssohn wrote a symphony inspired by the Scottish highlands.

To my mind railways retain more than a hint of this romantic age which of course remains embedded in out culture under both the wonder and disillusion of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.

And the train can take you a little of the way there.

The railway in Ireland has a chequered history. Where once trains served countless small towns and even villages now only a skeletal service remains. In the end we have to admit that since the foundation of the state the railways have been very much neglected. We, or at least the government fell in love with cars and roads.

In part, of course, this was in accordance with the mood and economics of the time but in my view it also reflected a deeper association of railways with Britishness. The railways were built by the British and the Irish state choose to focus on roads. But we also need to consider what cars and roads do.

First and foremost, they empower the car owner. Other members of the community and/or family become dependent on these individuals. The wealthy and eventually even the comparatively wealthy were empowered. And for a long time of course, it was only men who owned cars. To this day they privatise and atomise travel.

In almost every sense cars are anti social while trains are social.

The first railway in Ireland opened in 1834 and linked Dublin and what is now Dun Laoighire ( then Kingstown) and by 1865 there were 2000 miles of track in the country linking all the major industrial, if not agricultural regions).

The roll out of rail, however, was much slower than in England. By 1845 for example there were 1,700 miles of track in England and still only 70 in Ireland.

This, of course, was the time of the potato famine and in the development of rail we see that the famine of the 1840’s was both a cause of and a result of British neglect of Ireland at this time. But that is another story.

However the following years saw a huge amount of railway construction in Ireland and this investment in rail continued right up to the end of British dominion in Ireland (1920) by which time there were over 3500 miles of rail in Ireland and the rail network stretched into remote areas such as Connemara, West Cork  and Donegal, often by way of generous government subsidy. Interestingly, most of the trains were passenger trains. This was in contrast with a predominance of goods trains in Britain. This was because Ireland had neither the mining or manufacturing that Britain had and its major industrial regions were all close to the sea.

It is hard to understand why the Irish government neglected these rural rail networks but neglect them they did and most of the rural lines were closed in the 1960’s.

The West Cork rail service serves as a good microcosm of the wider story. Built in the later years of the nineteenth century and early 20th century it connected all the major towns even as far as Schull. Schull feels very rural and isolated to me when I visit now and it is hard to imagine a rail link now and it is, of course, up to the imagination what a rail link would have meant to the area from a psychological, social and economic perspective.

When the lines did close in the 1960’s it was against the background of huge protest and indeed the last train had to leave under police escort. The history of the railway is commemorated at the Clonakilty model railway village. The main Bandon to Cork road is traversed by this beautifull viaduct also.

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It is a reminder of what once was and what might have been.

Not only did the authorities close the rail lines but they often dismantled the rail lines and sold the land back to local farmers. This meant that the lines could never be opened again. Where the tracks remain they are often being converted into greenways and provide a wonderful opportunity to cycle and walk in the countryside. Examples include Westport to Achill, Dungarvan to Waterford and Mullingar to Athlone. All these deserve their own posts and hopefully I’ll get to them soon !

They are beautiful examples of the creative and imaginative use of the old infrastructure. Here’s to more such projects in the future !

Alan is a travel director with Trafalgar tours