Bunratty Castle Tour Mixes History, Education and Irish Jokes
A tour of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park may be one of the most commercialized experiences in Irish heritage in all of Ireland, but the commercialism shouldn't stop anyone from going. It’s a fun and educational experience for all ages.
The commercialization came to the forefront during the traditional dinner banquet when the emcee led the audience in singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” Some of the banquet guests who had a little too much mead, beer or wine to drink sang louder and more off key than the rest. But their enthusiasm made up for any problems with their singing.
The popular medieval banquet capped a half day to a full day of touring Bunratty Castle, which is a fully restored tower house that was originally built in 1445. The tour also includes the surrounding Folk Park, which contains working farmhouses and a village street.
The castle “is the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland,” according to the Shannon Heritage, which helps manage the property. Visitors will find that the castle and park emphasize authenticity, education and entertainment.
Bunratty Castle Tour
The site of Bunratty Castle began as a Viking trading camp in 940. The first defensive castle was built in 1250, destroyed, built again, and destroyed again before being rebuilt yet again.
In the mid 20th century, the castle lay in ruins when it was bought by Viscount Gort in 1953. Restoration work led to its status as a national monument and an opening to the public in 1962. The castle and its contents are now part of a national trust.
The exterior of the castle is square and simple on the outside. Inside, it is well-restored and filled with 15th- and 16th-century furniture, tapestries and artwork. Lord and Lady Gort’s interest in early furniture and works of art led to their donation of much of the castle’s interior furnishings.
The five-story castle does require someone with a moderate level of fitness to climb up and down the narrow stairways. Some older visitors limit their tour to the first and second floors.
Costumed characters provide guidance and answer tourist questions both in the castle and in the folk park.
Note: Unlike the Blarney Castle tour, the Bunratty Castle tour is easier during rainy weather because the castle tower is entirely enclosed.
Bunratty Folk Park Tour
The park has 30 buildings on 26 acres in a rural, village-like setting that may draw comparisons to Williamsburg in Virginia. Although the village houses are somewhat interesting, the biggest draw is the village street with 19th-century buildings. The village has working stores along with costumed villagers doing traditional jobs, such as farming, milling, farming and baking.
The buildings include a pub, doctor’s house, pawnbrokers, pub, drapery, school, printworks, grocery, pottery, hardware shop and post office. The pub is working and fully licensed.
Outside of the main village street, take note of Bunratty House, which was built in 1804 for the last family to occupy Bunratty Castle, the Studdarts. The house also has a restored half-acre walled garden.
Another highlight of the park is Ardcroney Church. This Church of Ireland building was rebuilt in the park and opened in 1998 after being moved stone by stone from Ardcroney in County Tipperary.
Logistics of the Tour
Plan on 2.5 hours for a full tour of both the castle and the folk park, which are open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
Ticket prices for the castle and park are $15 Euros for adults and $9 Euros for children at the time of this writing. Discounted adult tickets may be found for $10 Euros by researching prices online.
And Now About Those Jokes...
The Bunratty Medieval Banquet is held twice a night every night of the year except for Good Friday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It has been a tradition at the castle for more than 50 years.
Guests are presented with a glass of mead—an alcoholic drink fermented with honey and water—before being seated at long oak tables along with other guests to encourage fellowship. Fellowship is further enhanced with a steady flow of wine and beer.
After a four-course meal, the entertainment begins with traditional Irish songs and dancers. Two fortunate (or unfortunate) young fellows are plucked from the audience to join the young women dancers for a few minutes of crowd-pleasing entertainment as they awkwardly try to keep up with the young and energetic local dancers.
The audience rewards them with enthusiastic applause for being good sports.
The emcee introduces each song or dance, but he first raises some good laughs from the crowd with pure Irish jokes. Wait till you hear the one about the Irishman, Scotsman and Englishman in a bar and what happened when a fly landed in their ales....
Note: The cost of the banquet at the time of this writing was $53.50 Euros or about $60 U.S. dollars per person.
How to Get to Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are located in County Clare about 10 miles west of Limerick on the western coast of Ireland. Visitors who fly into Dublin can reach it in about two hours by car along well-maintained highways.
It is a convenient stop for anyone touring the southern half of the Irish countryside, including such attractions as Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, Cork, Kinsale and Ring of Kerry.
It also may be part of an itinerary that includes Galway, which lies about one hour north, and nearby attractions such as Lough Gur or King John’s Castle.
© 2019 Scott S Bateman