Thursday, August 11, 2011
KINSALE’S WINE MUSEUM
At Desmond Castle
In the church of St Patrice in Rouen (France), there is a 16th century stained glass window* showing the Irish patron saint having a glass of wine at Tara in 433 while the High King looks on anxiously. Maybe it’s the King’s glass?
On the 17th of October, 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote to Stella from London: “I dined today with your Mr Sterne ...and drank Irish wine”.
In 1780, John Windham recalled visiting Cork city: “There are no hackney coaches but there are plenty of chairs or sedans. ...These vehicles are extremely convenient for the followers of Bacchus who has a great number of votaries in this city.”
These anecdotes show that there has been a long association between wine and the Irish so it is no surprise that the Irish went abroad some of them became involved in the trade. The most recent example I came across is the late Michael Lynch in Argentina’s Mendoza.
Loads of similar info is in the Wine Museum in Kinsale’s Desmond Castle. Maybe not the efforts of Michael Lynch, but virtually every other Irish connection, certainly before 2000 when the museum was set up, is very well covered indeed and great credit here goes to Ted Murphy, the Corkman who put it all together.
Many of you will know of the Cork family Hennessey who ended up in Bordeaux, the very same family whose name still appears on Ireland’s most popular cognac (brandy). But did you know that we were also involved in the sherry trade? Terry, for example.
The French connection is strong (and getting stronger in places like Provence and the Languedoc) but the Irish were also involved in wine in America, Cronins and Foleys in California for example.
And not just North America. Some of you may be familiar with the popular Chilean wine: St Rita 120. In the early 19th century, freedom fighter General Barnardo Higgins (father from Sligo) and 120 of his men (including General John McKenna, another Irishman) took refuge in the St Rita cellars during the battle of Rancagua. The wine is named in their honour.
Many many connections and loads of interesting facts and also some memorabilia. I could go on and on but, in fairness to Mr Murphy, I think anyone interested in wine should take a trip down to Kinsale and take your time as you wander through the two rooms that make up this museum. Highly recommended and the admission at three euro wouldn’t buy you a glass of wine in any of the town's restaurants.
The three euro will also get you into the castle which was originally built about 1500 as the Kinsale Customs House, one of its tasks being to collect a tax based on the tonnage and quality of the wine. In 1497, the English king granted the local Earl of Desmond the right to take one cask from every shipment for himself!
Occupied by the Spanish during the Siege of Kinsale in 1601, the most famous event in the castle’s history came in 1747 when 54 prisoners died in a fire. Most of them were French seamen and the castle later became known as the French prison.
· There is a reproduction (photo above) of the window in the museum, donated by the Irish John and Eithne Lagan of the Xanadu Winery (Margaret River, Aus.). By the way, I love their Next of Kin wines (available via Bubble Brothers).