:: Daily Express: Sunday
TRAVEL - FIND IRELAND’S FUNKY
Get a taste of jazz in Ireland Sunday September 21,2008
Live music and nature at its wildest prove an intoxicating
combination for BOB SMITH on a visit to County Cork
to take in the Kinsale Jazz Festival.
A GENTLE tattoo rattles from the rigging of swaying
masts of the myriad yachts in Kinsale’s cosy harbour
in County Cork, south-west Ireland. We watch as an inquisitive
seal pops up through the ripples of the eddying tide
to witness evening dissolve into night.
In stunning counterpoint to this picture of tranquillity,
300ft away in a bar called Swell the Slammers Maximum
Jive Band are belting out music full blast as the town’s
annual Jazz Festival gets under way. It’s these contrasts
that make Kinsale such a great place to be. In 10 minutes
you can be in stunning countryside, both coastal and
inland, with magnificent walks where your only company
is the wildlife and the wind but in the square half
a mile at the centre of the town known as the “gourmet
capital of Ireland” there is as much action as you could
wish for. Restaurants are full of hungry music enthusiasts
fuelling up for the festivities as we wait for the bands
to crank up the decibels. Officially this is the fringe
action of the much larger Cork Jazz Festival half an
hour up the road, so the term jazz is loosely applied
but Kinsale has made this event its own and enthusiasts
pack the hotels and guest houses to join in the craic.
We stroll down the narrow streets cherry-picking venues
from the sounds emanating from within. Muddy Mahers’s
bar is playing host to Gentleman Tim and the Contenders,
while a short distance away at Oscar Madison’s we catch
the Texas Moonbeams bursting eardrums with the pulsating
classic Cocaine. “Do you like soul music?” yells the
front man of brassy R&B band Loose Change. We all do,
so they deliver a supercharged version of the soul classic
with a packed audience dancing and singing along. Round
the bay we call in at Bulman’s Bar, where Sangre Latino
are dispensing Latin/Caribbean jazz funk, while outside
a sleek sailing vessel heels into the freshening wind
and heads for open sea. In the morning we stroll out
to Sandycove, just roundround the bay, to blow away
the cobwebs and purge the system of Guinness. This is
beautiful coastline where dolphins, seal and whales
are all regular visitors. The walks in this area are
literally a breath of fresh air.
We drive for an hour further south into the wild country
of West Cork, beyond the quaint town of Skibbereen,
where the rugged coastline leads to the rocky finger
of land known as Sheep’s Head Peninsula. You can take
the modest two-mile walk, extend it to 10miles or, if
you have time, spend four days walking the 55-mile Sheep’s
Head Way. All offer unsurpassed views with steep cliffs
and a plunging headland from which the next stop is
America. We take the 10-mile option on a bright, breezy
day with enough bracing ozone in the air to fell a donkey.
After two hours we crest the highest point and look
down on a deep blue ocean, white caps flecking the waves
as they roll on to shore. Tiring now, we begin to dream
of a break from the track and a foaming cappuccino.
No sooner thought than delivered as, around the next
hillock, we are amazed to discover a cosy café where
a smiling patron serves up steaming mugs of coffee.
Thirteen miles west of Kinsale, between Timoleague and
Clonakilty, lies the Seven Heads Peninsula, another
pretty coastal headland, ideal for bird-watching, cycling
There is much more to this area than just music and
beautiful countryside, though. By basing yourself in
Kinsale you can enjoy such outdoor activities as golf,
yachting, kayaking, windsurfing, rock climbing, falconry
and pony trekking, or you can take in a variety of museums,
enjoy the guided historic walking tour or brave the
evening ghost tour. There is an arts festival in July
and a gourmet festival in October as well as the jazz.
We stay at the excellent
Friar’s Lodge, a four-star guest house in a quiet street
just behind the main shopping area offering luxurious
accommodation at modest prices. Owners Finbarr and Maureen
Tierney have run the lodge for seven years and present
the perfect Irish welcome. Their full Irish breakfast
is not to be missed, though you can opt for the “catch
of the day”, where lodge staff will pop down to the
fish market and bring back the morning’s fresh haul.
Cork airport is less than 25 minutes away and there
are several car rental companies operating from its
An alternative route is to fly to Dublin and drive
down. On the way, take in the rugged beauty of the Wicklow
Mountains, which stretch almost to Dublin itself. There
are dozens of walks of varying difficulty, from afternoon
strolls to the serious 82-mile Wicklow Way, which passes
through some of Ireland’s finest mountain landscapes.
Back in the bars and pubs that are held in the embrace
of Kinsale’s pretty harbour, they are gearing up for
this year’s festivities next month. Am I jealous? No
way. I booked my place months ago. And when the lights
go down and the rhythm starts to pulse, I’ll be there
with my pint of the black stuff.
Bmi Baby (0871 224 0224/www.bmibaby.com) offers return
flights from Manchester to Cork from £58.
Auto Europe (0800 358 1229/www.auto-europe.co.uk) offers
car hire in Cork from £11 per day.
Friars Lodge (dialling from UK: 00 353 21 477 7384/www.friars-lodge.com)
offers doubles from £80 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Cork Jazz Festival 2008 runs from October 24 to 27
Discover Ireland: 0800 039 7000/ www.discoverireland.com