An open-air museum and a medieval castle and banquet unite to create one of Ireland’s top three attractions at Bunratty.
There are few places where the past and present come together as abruptly as at Bunratty (translated to mean the castle at the mouth of the Ratty River). Since 1425, this township has been watched over by the six-story ancient stone tower house, built by the McNamara family. Over the course of its 600 plus years, its seen fighting, seizure, roof collapses and being turned into a modern educational theme park. Now families get a chance to see what life was like in Ireland over the last two hundred years.
From Shannon to Durty Nelly’s
Situated less than 10km from Shannon Airport, the immediate area surrounding the castle has become a tourist district with hotels and guest houses in abundance – right up to the castle grounds.
The way the castle has been absorbed into the local estate is jarring when you first arrive. Directly across the main road is a shopping complex with a wool store and a pub housed in the former creamery, with its copper steam boiler serving as an impressive adornment on the bar.
Across the street, right by the castle is Durty Nelly’s, a rollicking Irish bar that apparently is named after a “giving” local identity, Nelly Ryan, who tended the toll bridge. The bar was established in 1620, in the castle outbuildings as the village public house and there are now Durty Nelly’s bars all over the world.
Step back in time to the old Bunratty
It is a pleasant departure to leave the modern world and go back in time to a simpler era. The 26-acre park boasts over 30 buildings, set out like a rustic, rural village with geese, turkeys and goats providing a quaint soundtrack. In the peak of summer, costumed actors walk the streets and tend to the yards but as the first in the gates (en route to our flight) in the heart of autumn, it’s a ghost town.
This gives us the freedom to get around the park with a very limited window, but not the time to really absorb the experience and we miss the 19th century village and walled garden in favor of exploring the old thatched cottages and Bunratty Castle.
Each traditional farm house has that thick bacony smoke scent that is common in every open-air museum. It’s delicious!
The golden glow of morning light makes it feel like we’re in a period movie and there’s a definite charm to the place. We can imagine how alive and bustling it would be in the middle of summer. Instead, the park is celebrating Christmas with the addition of an ice-skating rink and appearances by Santa Claus (or Father Christmas if you’re from Ireland and Britain).
King and Queen of the Castle
The castle is the obvious focal point and it is beautifully renovated. You cross the ancient moat (now drained to the local river) and a real drawbridge to enter. Over six floors, you are transported back in time to the 1600s, exploring tiny chapels, dining rooms, banquet halls and bedrooms.
The spiral stairs up each tower are dangerously steep and narrow, so if you’re unhealthy, are scared of heights or with young children, you may want to avoid it. If you make the trek, you’ll be rewarded with a true taste of old Ireland, with the rooms restored with artwork and décor that feels authentic to the age. At night, the castle regularly hosts medieval banquets with live performances by minstrels and hearty roasts and stews.
We were unable to coordinate our trip to time in with one of the banquets, but we’d love to return one day to spend more time here, see the full folk village and walled garden, stop in at the fully-licenced village pub for a mead or beer and experience one of the banquets.
We stayed at The Courtyard Guesthouse, a quaint bed and breakfast just a five minute walk from the castle.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Village is an open air museum and meticulously restored castle.
Bunratty is in County Clare. Located just off the N18 Limerick/Ennis Road (just ten minutes from Shannon Airport.
9:00a.m-5.30p.m. Last admission to the Castle is at 4.00p.m. daily due to the set-up of the Medieval Banquet. The banquet runs nightly year-round, 5:30pm & 8:45pm but not on all days. Reservations are necessary.
*Online Rates: Adult €15.25, Child: 0-3yrs Free, 4-18yrs €10.50, Senior: €10.50, Family: €45.40 (2 adults & 2 children), Family: €61.50(2 adults &up to 6 children)
*These rates are available online only. Bookings for this venue must be made 24 hours in advance and are valid from 9.30 a.m. on day of purchase. Please note that during the low season some exhibits will not be staffed by actors.Follow & Connect with us