Posted by: travelrat | December 9, 2011

Desmond Castle, Kinsale.

Kinsale: 14th September 2011.

I think Desmond Castle is the first one I ever visited that stood, not on the top of a hill, or in beautiful gardens, but in a street of houses. It dates from around the late 15th/early 16th Century, and is, actually, a ‘fortified tower house’, with spacious store-rooms.

When the castle was built, Kinsale was a busy port, doing much trade with the Continent, and King Henry VII had granted Maurice Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond the right to impose a levy on incoming cargoes … especially wine! For this reason, Desmond Castle had the alternative name of the Custom House.

Unfortunately, the Desmonds rebelled against the Crown in the late 16th Century, so lost this right, along with their lands. When the Spanish occupied Kinsale in 1601, it is believed that the castle was used as a powder magazine, but following their defeat, was used as a Custom House again.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the castle was used as a prison for Spanish and French PoWs during a succession of Continental wars. It even housed a few American prisoners from the War of Independence. In between wars, it was used to house ‘home grown’ felons, until the 1840s, when it became a Famine Relief Centre and a workhouse, then used for various military purposes until it fell into disuse.

Now in the care of the Office of Public Works, it’s home to … the International Wine Museum!

From a friend, I heard that Ireland only has one vineyard, and I shan’t repeat her opinion of the wine, for I’ve never had any. But, over the years, there’s been much emigration from Ireland, fleeing from unsuccessful rebellions, famines or just in search of a better life. These emigrants were often shown as ‘wild geese’ on ships’ manifests, to ensure their safe passage to Europe, and so they became known by this name.

Some of these emigrant families either established vineyards or otherwise engaged themselves in the wine trade … the name of Hennesey is probably the most familiar … thus were dubbed the ‘Wine Geese’

So, in most places where wine is made, there’s at least one family of Irish descent there … and all are commemorated in this museum.



  1. Hi Keith,
    What a fantastic history this castle has, and being in a street with houses is really fascinating. I wonder if somewhere in past there was a lot of land sold off, this would explain the other houses around the castle maybe.

    • I don’t really think it was really designed as a defensive work, more as a secure warehouse and residence. Probably an explanation for its rather odd site?

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