Charles Fort, Ireland: The Complete Guide

Europe's best star fort in pretty Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort, Ireland

 

Carrigphotos/Getty Images

Sitting on the edge of Kinsale Harbor, Charles Fort is one of the most impressive star forts in Ireland. The fortified walls still stand and offer gorgeous views of the water and countryside in this corner of cork.

Here is your guide to Charles Fort, including how to visit and why to keep an eye out for a local ghost.

History of Charles Fort

Known as Dún Chathail in Irish, Charles Fort is a well preserved 17th-century star fort in West Cork, Ireland. The artillery fort was built between 1677 and 1682 on the southern end of Kinsale Harbor. Charles Fort is sometimes known as the “new” fort because it was constructed after James Fort, which is also near Kinsale.

The star fort was a British artillery stronghold named for Charles II, who was King of England, Scotland, and Ireland when it was founded. It is built on the foundations of an earlier Norman fort known as Ringcurran Castle and is strategically located on to defend the area from sea attacks. It was designed as a counterpoint to James Fort following a Spanish invasion which mounted an attack on the nearby town.

Charles Fort was designed to be able to withstand cannon attacks, however, it was built on low ground. This makes an ideal location to defend against attacks launched from the water but it did not take land defenses well enough into account. In 1690, Charles Fort fell victim to a 13-day siege from higher ground during the Williamite War and was ultimately captured.

The fort was later used as barracks by the British Army until Charles Fort was handed over to Irish forces after Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The star fort was severely damaged during the 1922 Irish Civil War which followed soon after.

The complex at Charles Fort was used for training exercises during World War II, but otherwise widely abandoned after Irish independence. Restoration efforts began in 1973 when the fort was named a National Monument of Ireland. The site is now managed by the Office of Public Works. Charles Fort is now one of the most popular historic sites in County Cork.

What to See and Do at Charles Fort

The most impressive standing feature of Charles Fort is the extensive fortified walls arranged in a large star shape. Much of the interior of the fort was made of wood and has been destroyed, but the stone walls of the perimeter still stand.

There is small visitor’s center inside what was once the officer’s quarters with audio and visual exhibits for a self-guided experience. It is possible to wander through the site or to arrange a guided tour which lasts about one hour.

There is a café located on the grounds which serves coffee, tea and homemade cakes. It is open daily from May through September. Outside of high season, the café is only open on weekends from mid-March to April and in October and closed during winter.

In addition to the fort itself, the views from the site across the harbor to Kinsale on clear days are truly beautiful.

Finally, keep your eyes peeled for a ghost known as the White Lady. According to a famous local legend, a soldier at the fort married a local girl and had to go on patrol on their wedding night. He arrived at his post drunk from celebrating his marriage and fell asleep during Watch Duty. The protocol of the day mandated that he be shot for abandoning his post, and his distraught bride flung herself off the walls when she heard of his death. She supposedly still haunts the ruined walls.

Location and How to Visit

Charles Fort is located south-east of the pretty port town of Kinsale in West Cork, at the entry to Kinsale Harbor in Summercove. To arrive via car, take the Cork-Kinsale road (R600) and watch for the turnoff about 1.5 miles outside of town. A bus run operated by Bus Eireann normally runs from town to the fort three times a day (at 12 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 16:45 p.m., though these times are subject to change).

It is also possible to walk to the fort from Kinsale town. Known as the Scilly walk, the easy coastal hike takes about 1.5 hours and covers just over 3 miles. 

The fort's hours change seasonally. From mid-March to October, the fort is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From November to mid-March, the hours are slightly more limited and the fort closes an hour earlier (at 5 p.m.).

Entrance to the site is 5 euros for adults and 3 euros for children. As with all sites managed by the Office of Public Works, Charles Fort is free to visit on the first Wednesday of every month.

What else to do nearby

James Fort is less well preserved but is an earlier example of fortifications along Kinsale Harbor.

The town of Kinsale itself is one of the prettiest seaside villages in Cork. It is famed for its cheery colored buildings, traditional pubs, and boat-filled harbor. The old fishing village is also the starting/end point of the Wild Atlantic Way. The famed driving route stretches 1,500 miles between Kinsale and County Donegal.

Nearby Desmond Castle is an example of a fortified 16th-century home that was built for an Earl, but was later used as a jail. It now houses a wine museum (though the exhibit is fairly small).

Bulman Bar in Summercove is a popular stop for a meal and live music after visiting the fort.