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Kinsale: 29km (18 miles) S of Cork, 87km (54 miles) SE of Killarney, 156km (97 miles) SE of Shannon Airport, 285km (177 miles) SW of Dublin, and 32km (20 miles) E of Clonakilty

A half-hour’s drive south of Cork City (take N27 to the R600, a.k.a. Kinsale Road, or N71 to the R607), Kinsale is a charming fishing village sitting on a picturesque harbor, surrounded by green hills. Considered the gateway to the western Cork seacoast, this artsy town of 3,000 residents enchants with its narrow winding streets, well-kept 18th-century houses, imaginatively painted shopfronts, window boxes overflowing with colorful flowers, and a harbor full of sailboats. The downside of all this is that the secret is out: This is a tourist town, so add parking problems, crowds, and tour buses to the list of qualities making up the town's ambience.

Picturesque as it is, however, Kinsale has a more eventful history than you might think. In 1601, this was the scene of the Battle of Kinsale, a turning point in Irish history. In September of that year, a Spanish fleet anchored at Kinsale and came under attack by English forces. An Irish army marched across virtually the whole of Ireland to reach and help the Spanish troops, but they were routed in a battle on Christmas Eve. In response to their support of the Spanish, Catholics were banned by English administrators from the town of Kinsale -- a banishment that lasted for a century. You can learn all about this fascinating conflict on one of local man Don Herlihy’s absorbing Kinsale Historic Strolls.

Just off the coast of the Old Head of Kinsale -- about 8km (5 miles) west of the town -- a German submarine sank the Lusitania, which was on its way from New York to Liverpool, in 1915. The attack, which killed 1,200, ultimately brought America into World War I. Some of the victims are buried in a local cemetery.