Lost in Kinsale

How a side trip to a tiny Irish village helped an American couple get reacquainted.

Sailboats in a harbor in the small fishing village of Kinsale, Ireland.

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Sailboats in a harbor in the small fishing village of Kinsale, Ireland.
Kinsale, Ireland.
Source: Shutterstock.com

And why shouldn’t I go to Kinsale? says Jan as we cross over the River Liffey for the third, maybe the fourth time, muddling our way out of Dublin in our wee rental car. What occurred there was years ago, says she.

I don’t ever think about it.

I’m just saying we don’t have to go there, says I. We could go to Cork. Or Galway.

Worst idea I’ve ever had, this side trip to Kinsale. A lovely week in Dublin, getting things between us back on track, and then this idjit–me–suggests renting a car and driving down to Kinsale. You’ll love it, says I. Very romantic. Gawd, what an arse.

Watch the road now! yells Jan. You’re crossing the line again!

I will yeah, thanks, says I sarcastically.

Silence the rest of the way.

We pull into Kinsale five hours later, eventually find our hotel, and, though worn out, decide before dinner to go for a walk just to get out of the room. It’s a fine summer evening. Calm, brisk, moist. Seagulls swoop through a pale blue sky. Children play along the low wall of the harbor. An older gent sitting in a sunken lawn chair on the bow of his decrepit sailboat sips a whiskey. Red face, purple nose, threadbare sweater the color of new hay. Drinking by himself. Still. Not a half-bad life.

I wouldn’t mind doing something like that, I say, trying to make peace.

Not with me, says Jan. I could never live on a boat. Everything damp, wet. Closed quarters.

Anyway, the drink looks inviting, I say. Shall we find a bar before dinner? Jan shrugs.

On the corner is a white building with a little mural of a waiter in black vest and bow tie carrying a glass of wine. Apéritif, says the sign. Pop in. Nice-looking place. But nobody here. What time is it, anyway? After five. When do they start drinking in Kinsale?

The lone woman inside, standing behind the bar holding a glass of white wine, has the most shocking bright red hair I’ve ever seen. The color of a candy apple. Pale, freckled skin. Maybe 40. Maybe 50. Never good at guessing women’s ages. Twinkle in her green eyes.

Do you serve wine by the glass? I ask.

We’d better; we’re a wine bar, she says, laughing. Sticks her thin, pale hand out. Kate, she says. I run the place, although there’s not much to run at the moment. Laughs at her own joke, takes a sip of wine.
What is it you’re drinking? I ask her.

Pinot gris. It’s not much but it’s all right. Fancy a glass?

Why not.

Kate grabs a bottle stuck in a tub of ice and gives us hefty pours.

Awfully quiet in town, I say.

It’s a bit early, says Kate. Not for me, of course, she says, sipping her wine. Where are you from then?

California, says Jan.

I love California, says Kate. Palm Springs! Lived there for a year with husband No. 2. Or maybe it was No. 3. Doesn’t matter, does it!

This brings a smile to Jan’s face. The three of us get to talking and suddenly Jan is telling stories about how I got us lost today just looking for our hotel in town, even though you could walk the whole thing from one end to the other in 10 minutes. Kate laughs and slaps the bar. Says, I don’t believe you! Lost in Kinsale?

It’s true, it’s true, says Jan and the two of them look at me and laugh, conspirators already. We finish our drinks and I ask for the bill. Kate grabs the bottle of wine from behind the bar and says, Let me just top this off a bit–on the house. What are you doing in Kinsale, then?

We came to Dublin to celebrate our anniversary, says Jan. Then this one decided we should come to Kinsale because he once met a girl here.

No! says Kate. I don’t believe you!

It’s true, says Jan. Kate makes a horrified face and shakes her head. Oh, I don’t mind, says Jan. It’s nothing to me.
I tell Jan we should probably be going. Kate puts a hand on top of Jan’s arm and tops off both of our glasses again.
More stories pass between Jan and Kate. More wine. An hour later I tell Kate we really do have to go or I’ll never make it through dinner since I’m already half-sozzled.

Oh, that’s a good one, isn’t it? says Kate. Sozzled! Haven’t heard that in ages! Listen, she says, giving Jan a long hug, if you haven’t anything to do after dinner, there’s a trad session at Daltons tonight. Good craic. You might even find me there.

What’s a trad session? asks Jan.

Traditional Irish music. The real thing. Not something brought in for tourists. Good craic, she says again.

Damn if I can understand how it is I keep getting us lost in a small town where I spent an entire summer. We walk up a hill over the harbor, neighbors sitting on their stoops smoking a fag or just enjoying the fine evening. I ask one old gent taking the air how to get to Max’s restaurant. Down them stoney steps, he says. Pass that house there.

I thought you knew this town? says Jan.

I did then, says I. Now I’m a bit lost.


To find out how Jan and David’s evening in Kinsale ended, and to see more beautiful pictures from their trip to this small Irish village, pick up the May/June 2014 issue of The Saturday Evening Post on newsstands, or…

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