Kinsale harbour is overlooked by a tongue of land called Castle Park, which juts into the harbour on the west side. To the south of the tongue is the mouth of the inlet and to the north is the town of Kinsale and the inner harbour. No ship can enter Kinsale without being seen from the high ground at Castle Park. For this reason it made an excellent location for a fortification. In medieval times a castle stood on this spot, which was occupied by Spanish forces in 1601.
The first artillery fort was begun in 1602, shortly after the Spanish were evicted, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth of England. The English engineer Paul Ive designed an earthwork fort of five bastions to be built on the highest point of the tongue. The fort was surrounded by a dry ditch and had a single entrance, located on the south side.
At the centre of the fort stands a smaller inner fort. This inner fort was made of stone and had four half-bastions at the corners. The history of the inner fort is unclear, but it seems to have incorporated the remains of the medieval castle. It was used as an inner line of defence, in case the outer ramparts were captured. However, because the walls of the inner fort are not higher than the outer ramparts, its defensive capabilities are questionable.
The pentagonal fort on the high ground was not close enough to the water to effectively prevent hostile ships from entering the harbour. For this reason a water battery was built at the water's edge at the point where the channel is narrowest. The water battery had a semi-circular two storey battery of guns overlooking the channel. It was linked to the main fort by a covered way, so that communication between the battery and the fort could be maintained during a siege. The water battery was remodelled in 1677 to mount 8 guns, backed by a powder magazine.
In the 1680s a new fort, called Charles Fort, was built on the opposite side of the harbour mouth. A chain could be slung across the harbour mouth from James Fort to Charles Fort to prevent hostile ships from entering.
Kinsale was attacked during the English Civil War in 1649, when James Fort surrendered to Cromwell without a fight. In 1690 the fort was attacked again by William III of Englandís forces under the Duke of Marlborough. This time the garrison resisted, but the fort was captured by assault.
Visiting James Fort
James Fort is in good condition for an earthwork fortification. The grass appears to be mown regularly and the bracken growing on the ramparts themselves is effective in stabilising the earthen banks without obscuring their form. The fort can be visited for free, although there is no access to the inside of the inner fort. James Fort is within walking distance of the town of Kinsale. Nearby Charles Fort is an impressive stone fort and also well worth a visit.