powered by FreeFind
Ireland Gazeteer

Kinsale in 1839

KINSALE, a sea-port town and borough in the barony of Kinsale and county of Cork, on the south coast of Ireland, situated on the river Bandon, about four miles from the sea. and about 178 English miles from Dublin. The borough and liberties constitute a barony.

The river forms a safe and commodious harbour for vessels of considerable burthen, which can come close up to the town, in which respect it has an advantage over the city of Cork, from which it is distant about 12 miles.

Owing to the windings of the river, the harbour is completely land-locked, and the town is defended by Fort Charles, which stands opposite to it, and about a mile lower down the river.

The town is composed of one principal street by the river side, and several narrow lanes ascending a steep hill in the rear, besides some blocks of buildings at the head of the harbour.

At the census of 1831 there were 967 houses, inhabited by 1,512 families, comprising 7,312 individuals, of whom 3,148 were males and 4,164 were females. The population of the whole barony was I3,997.

Of the males 20 years old and upwards, 1,562 in number, 22 were engaged in agricultural pursuits, 547 were employed in retail trade or handicraft, 153 were capitalists, bankers, professional and other educated men; 680 were labourers employed in labour not agricultural; and 72 were male servants: the occupations of the remaining 88 are not given. There were besides 37 male servants under 20 years of age, and 413 female servants.

Kinsale (in Irish cean-tail, or 'the head of the sea.') early became a place of importance to the English settlers. John de Courcy, inheriting the surrounding tract of country by intermarriage with the family of Cogan, built a castle on the promontory called the Old Head of Kinsale, at the mouth of the Bandon river, in the twelfth century. This probably led to the commencement of a town farther up the river, where a land-locked and capacious creek offered the advantages of a secure roadstead for ships of any burthen.

A charter of incorporation was granted to the inhabitants A.D. 1333, and various grants of customs, &c. are subsequently on record.

The place has been the scene of numerous engagements, both by sea and land. Here De Courcy defeated MacCarthy More with great slaughter of the Irish.

In 1380 a battle was fought in the harbour between the English fleet and the combined fleets of France and Spain, in which the latter were signally defeated. On the 23rd September, 1601, a body of Spaniards, under the command of Don Juan D'Aquila, landed here, and seized the town for the Roman Catholic party, who were then in arms under the Earl of Tyrone and other Irish chieftains.

On the 17th October the English, under the Lord Deputy Montjoy and Sir George Carew, the president of Munster, arrived before the town, and invested it on both sides of the Bandon. The siege lasted till the 28th December, when the Spaniards surrendered in consequence of the defeat of the united armies of O'Neill and O'Donnell before the town on the preceding 23rd. This defeat, attended with the loss of 1,200 men killed and 800 wounded, completely broke the spirit of the insurgents, and led the way to the immediate pacification of Munster.

During the wars of 1641 the town was a place of refuge for the English Protestants of the neighbouring country.

It fell into the hands of the Jacobite party in the succeeding war of the Revolution, and was held by a combined French and Irish garrison for James II from March, 1689, to the latter end of the following year, when it was taken possession of by the Protestant army under Brigadier-General Churchill, afterwards duke of Marlborough.

The governing charters bear date 7th January, 7th Edward III and 10th May, 31st Elizabeth. The corporation is governed by a council, consisting of sovereign, burgesses, and common speaker, which last represents the freemen. The freedom is obtained by grant of the council.

The criminal jurisdiction extends to all offences, treason excepted: the civil jurisdiction of the recorder's court of pleas is unlimited in all personal actions. The annual revenue averages £550, and the average expenditure is £360.

During the late continental war there was a government dockyard at Kinsale, in which ships of war were repaired, and the harbour was much resorted to by the king's ships as a place of refuge. This occasioned a considerable expenditure of money, which having ceased at the peace, the town is now in a declining and impoverished condition.

Of all the houses which it contained in 1831, there were only 301 which were rated as being worth £10 per annum and upwards, and only 402 having more than six windows each. It is observed that many of the houses have balconies in the Spanish style.

The town is pretty well paved, and has a good supply of water.

A large portion of the population obtain a livelihood by fishing, in which they are very expert. The boats employed in the fishery are called hookers; they are well-built vessels of 20 tons burthen, and go to sea in all weathers. The men are often serviceable as pilots to strange vessels that are driven on the coast.

The greater part of the fish which they take is sold in the markets of Cork. In a return of the tonnage and estimated value of the exports and imports of the several ports of Ireland in the year 1835, as given in the Appendix to the Second Report of the Commissioners appointed to consider and recommend a general system of Railways for Ireland, the trade of Kinsale, including its coasting trade, is stated to be us follows:—


Coals, culm, and cinders : 13,500 tons; £12,150

Iron : 161 tons; £1,771

Corn, meal, and flour : 6,613 hundredweight; £2,829

Salt : 11,800 bushels; £222

Other articles : £1,290




Corn, meal, and flour : 18,012 hundredweight; £9,897

Potatoes : 4,240 hundredweight; £362

Feathers : 10 hundredweights; £60

Cows and oxen : 10 in number; £70

Horses : 6 in number; £80

Sheep : 840 in number; £1,010

Swine : 1,071 in number; £2,000



The fish, which, us already mentioned, are taken by the Kinsale fishermen to Cork, are not included in this statement, being taken direct to the market of consumption without being landed at Kinsale.

The borough of Kinsale returns one member to parliament.

The number of persons qualified to vote in 1835 was 221, and the number who voted was 155. At the registration of 1836 the number of qualified electors was increased to 270, and the actual voters at the last general election in 1837 were 199.