Monday, March 22, 2010
Bunratty is the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland. The site, near Shannon Town in County Clare, dates back to 970, when there was a Viking trading camp on the premises. A castle dating from 1251 once stood on this strategic site, which afforded a view of boats entering and leaving the port of Limerick.
The MacNamara family built the present tall stone structure around 1425, but fifty years later through marriage it had became the stronghold of the O'Briens, the largest ruling clan in North Munster. The castle was surrounded by beautiful gardens and had a herd of 3,000 deer. The O'Briens were granted the title Earls of Thomond by Henry VIII and professed loyalty to the crown of England. The O'Brien rule was ended by Cromwell’s troops, and the castle and grounds were surrendered. The O'Briens later built a far larger and more luxurious residence called Dromoland Castle, which now operates as a 5-star tourist hotel.
Bunratty Castle and its lands were subsequently granted to various estate families, the last of whom were the Studdarts, around 1720. Admiral Penn, father of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), resided here for a time. The Studdarts left the castle in 1804, having built themselves a more comfortable country home, Bunratty House, on the grounds surrounding the castle. Bunratty castle eventually fell into such disrepair that the roof of the great hall collapsed. Fortunately, the castle was rescued in the twentieth century by Viscount Lord Gort, who carried out extensive restoration work in 1945. It was then offered to the public in 1960 as a National Monument open to visitors year round. Medieval banquets held in the Great Hall of Bunratty Castle feature maids playing Irish harps in period costumes, court jesters and food served as in the middle ages, accompanied by mead, a honey wine.
The adjoining Irish folk park has eight farmhouses, a village street with various shops and crafts being demonstrated, and some estate buildings, including Bunratty House, two mills and a blacksmith's forge.