BUNRATTY CASTLE & FOLK PARK
A Look Into The Past
|Bagpiper welcomes guests to Medieval Banquet|
What an experience! We had no idea what we were going to see the day we traveled to Bunratty. The day was so lovely. As we approached the Castle, we just knew this visit was about to become another really special tour that would take us back in time. And indeed it did!
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of Ireland’s top destinations. Putting together two distinctive attractions, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park provides you a view of life in both the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries!
We were lucky to meet a lovely and well-versed woman named Marie Brennan, who gets all the credit for our incredible journey through the past at Bunratty. What started out as an hour tour took way over two hours, and believe me, we wished we had planned for at least an entire day. There is so much to see. However, we had plans to attend the Medieval Banquet that evening, and we wanted to get some rest before embarking on that quite spectacular adventure. We knew the evening’s festivities would go on for several hours and be a memory that would linger in our hearts and minds forever!
Bunratty offers the visitor two attractions for the price of one and each has a complete set of attributes. Whether you are visiting the Castle and enjoying the fifteenth century, or stepping out into the Folk Park to visit the nineteenth century, you will not be disappointed.
While the Castle, built in 1425, and restored in 1954, offers the visitor a glimpse into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with grand furnishings, well known works of art, and tapestries, the Folk Park gives us a true vision of the cottages and houses of the nineteenth century, clustered as they were then at the base of the massive walls surrounding the castle. Leaving the castle and all its medieval furnishings, the finest in all of Ireland according to sources, the Folk Park spreads out in front of you—a peaceful landscape, once stained with the blood so many shed in battle during the many battles fought over it throughout history. These two attractions surely capture the feeling of medieval times.
In researching Bunratty Castle, we found it was originally built in 1277 by Sir Thomas de Clare, and the town came soon after, developing around the castle. However, the property that it is situated on dates back to 970 AD, when it was a Viking Trading Camp.
Reviewing the history of this land and its ownership, you can’t help but wonder what life must have been like in the days of yesteryear. Reading the history of the union between the property and the castle built on it, and the diverse owners, you can’t help but imagine yourself in those times, wondering, perhaps, whether back then you would have been royalty, surrounded by splendor, or you would have lived a peasant’s life, serving the heads of power. I myself, when wandering though the grounds, was in awe of what once was.
Today, the quiet village of Bunratty, with its surrounding countryside, is built upon what was once the thriving town of Bunratty. Shannon Heritage has gone to great care and expense to show you a replica of what once was.
Bunratty Castle is considered one of the finest tower houses still standing in Ireland. The Great Earl of Thomond saw to it, making sure his manor reflected his position of power and wealth—superior to those around him. Today, you see little evidence of the death and murder that followed in the battles fought on these grounds, which we will tell you about shortly. All you see is a tranquil town and the history of its people.
The entrance to Bunratty is as impressive as any. You will approach a section of ancient paved road, see the remains of a moat that once surrounded the Castle, enter a door that leads into the courtyard, and then climb steps to the drawbridge. Once you enter the village, you will see buildings and surroundings from the late nineteenth century, a time when the towns greatly influenced the outlying areas. During that same time, as science evolved to produce modern conveniences, electricity and telephones were mostly for the government and big business, not the general population, so changes were not yet found in the lives of those who populated the countryside.
Life in Bunratty: Can you imagine what the life of an average Irish family would have been like in 1900? Could you live the life they did with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or the conveniences of modern day kitchens?
In Bunratty Folk Park, you will have the opportunity to see how they once lived and sample their daily bread, cooked before your eyes over an open fire fueled by peat!
You may romanticize about times long past, or dread them, but when you see the difference that money made in people’s lives back then, you will soon realize it is not much different from today, with one exception—with our modern conveniences, our living standards are better and our lives much easier! Don’t miss out on one of Ireland’s most authentic opportunities to visit the past with its village life so accurately portrayed.
Some of the information written above was fuelled by the materials provided to us by Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. In fact, may we suggest you visit the gift store there and bring home your own copy of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park Guide Book.
Just to give you a glance at some of the Castle and Park’s history, we have gathered some highlights for your pleasure.
Bunratty Castle has a violent history and has been destroyed eight or nine times. Sources differ on the details of Bunratty’s history. For example, you’ll find sources claiming the son of Sir Thomas de Clare was killed and the castle and the surrounding town were completely destroyed during a battle between the Irish and the Normans in 1318. However, other sources claim the daughter-in-law of Sir Thomas de Clare burned the Castle down, leaving it in ruins when her husband was killed. So the actual facts are unclear as far as we were able to determine. Either way, the fact remains, the Castle was destroyed in 1318.
It seems the castle was simply not meant to be in this location, because after being restored for the King of England, it was once again destroyed in 1332 by Irish chieftains. The castle remained in a state of ruin for twenty-one years until Sir Thomas Rokeby, Sheriff of Yorkshire, had it rebuilt once more. But wait! Shortly after its reconstruction, the Irish attacked, taking Bunratty by force, and it has remained in Irish hands ever since.
In 1425, the McNamara family built the current Bunratty and resided there until 1475, when it was taken over by the O’Briens of North Munster. In their efforts to make it a lovely estate, the McNamaras landscaped the grounds with modeled gardens. It was said that at one time over 3,000 deer thrived on this land! Oh what a site that must have been. Sometime later, the O’Briens were given the title of Earls of Thomond, after pledging their loyalty to the King of England. But again, this was short-lived; the end came with the surrender of the castle and grounds to Cromwell’s troops and the O’Briens never returned to Bunratty.
The castle passed through many hands and saw many difficulties. By 1804, Bunratty was in a state of disrepair.
Finally in 1954, Lord Gort purchased Bunratty Castle and returned it to all its glory, opening it to the public in 1960.
Rates and Visitor Information
Before you visit, please check Bunratty’s website for current rates. The following rates were current at the time of this writing. Be sure also that you enjoy the discount they have extended to our readers. And Enjoy!
Adult €9.50, Family €25.00, Child €5.30 in US Dollars; this is converted by multiplying the Euros by 1.5. Example, the adult price of 9.50 Euros would be approximately $15.00. Family rates of 25 Euros would be approximately $38 US with children being slightly more than $8. These US Dollar rates are as of August 2011, so should you need it to be accurate, I suggest you check your bank for current rate exchanges since rates change almost every day.
Opening Times: (As provided by the Internet)
June to August: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission 5.15 p.m.)
Closed Good Friday & December 24th, 25th, 26th
Castle: last admission 4:00 p.m. Year round
Bunratty Castle Banquet
This is an evening of refinement and fun. The entertainment is provided by the Bunratty singers. It includes a four course meal with red and white wine.
Twice nightly, subject to availability: 5:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.
Adult €45.50, Child (6-9) 50% reduction: €22.75, Child (9-12) 25% reduction: €34.00, Child (0-5): No Charge, Group 20+ 10% reduction: €40.95
Now, two pieces of advice:
One, when you visit Bunratty Castle, be sure you plan on spending the whole day so you can see the entire property. And two, stop by and give the wolf hounds a pet—they are very friendly!
Stay tuned next week to read about the banquets and surprises. Also special offers for my readers from Bunratty Castle and Shannon Heritage Region..