Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Co Clare, Ireland
Harp and Violin
Women in period costume play traditional tunes in the Great Hall of Bunratty Castle.
You can’t visit Ireland without partaking of at least one Medieval Castle Banquet – or so the travel books and agents would have you believe!
I’m not a huge fan of theme parks, but every so often it is nice to relax and have your history and culture spoon-fed in tourist-friendly bites. So, when my contact in Ireland, with whom I was organising our ten-day Dingle Way walking trip, strongly recommended that we book the medieval dinner at Bunratty Castle as part of our stay in Shannon, I took his suggestion seriously enough to have a look, and bought tickets on line before we left home.
I’m glad we did!
The price of dinner includes entry to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, a “living reconstruction of Ireland over a century ago” set on 26 acres, so we made sure to arrive early enough to have a look around the park and castle beforehand.
Loop Head House
This cottage was originally the home of a farming and fishing family – the thatched roof was roped down to protect against the Atlantic gales.
Inside is dark, with wooden floors, whitewashed walls – and the all-important cross in the window.
Put the Kettle on!
There is no running water in the cottages, but there is always a kettle on the fire, ready to make tea.
We get our first glimpse of the castle, built in 1425, through the wet trees. It is, of course, a rainy afternoon; we did not have a day in Ireland without rain.
Latch the Door!
Caisleán Bhun Raithe
The plaque outlining the history of the “Castle at the Mouth of the Ratty” is in Gaelic.
Refurbishing the castle was a labour of love for Lord and Lady Gort, who bought the ruins in 1953. Together with John Hunt, they sourced tapestries, furnishings and artworks to re-create the atmosphere of the castle’s earlier years. For example, in this room the escritoire (writing desk) is an unusual oak piece from the 15th century, and the carved bed posts are 16th century. The castle furnishings are now maintained by the Gort Furniture Trust.
Earl’s Private Chapel
Most of the religious artworks here are from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Fly the Flag!
Outside again, we look back at the castle, with it’s three large central floors and six floors in each tower, before continuing our tour of the park.
In the dining-room of a simple cottage, the table is set for tea.
Farm animals wander around the village streets.
The Doctors House
A typical 19th Century urban Irish house, where a doctor once lived and worked.
J J Cory’s Pub
A typical village pub was operated out of a family kitchen.
The folk park has two working mills.
Wooden Water Wheel
The Earl’s Butler
We are welcomed back to the castle in time for dinner. We had reserved the early seating; the banquets are so popular in high season, that they run twice a night!
Harp and Violin
In the Great Hall, we are treated to mead and traditional music. The acoustics in the large room are improved by the French, Belgian and Flemish tapestries hung on the walls amongst the other artworks.
Butler and Lady
Once we move down to the Main Guard Hall, we are given the safety drill and regaled with stories.
As we eat our dinner, seated at banked tables, we are treated to traditional songs. I was relieved that – contrary to some medieval feasts I have heard of – we were given utensils and serviettes! It was all very civilised – although one ‘traitorous’ guest was thrown into the dungeon for a spell.
To listen to a delightful, live rendition of “Lord of the Dance” by the Bunratty Castle Singers, press play:
A kilted piper plays us out when our time in the castle is finished.
Even without the dinner, the castle and folk park is worth a visit.
For us, it was a delightful change of pace – especially after the miles we had so recently walked.
Smiling eyes, lilting voices, decent food and wine – that’s how I like my history!
Sláinte – Good health!
Audio clip: The Two William Davies & The Rolling Waves, with Ciara O’Sullivan on harp.