Hey guys ,
Welcome back to TodaysWanderluster !! It is Friday, 3rd of July and this week we are required to move a little bit towards the centre of the country to Clare county as today our wunderluster is taking us on a journey to explore for the very first time on our page, an Irish medieval castle.
So without a further notice… (as in our previous articles the introductions were surely waaay out of bounds), let’s begin our journey of the Bunratty Castle !!
‘Caisleán Bhun Raithe‘ in Irish or ‘Bunratty Castle’, is a 15th century tower house. The castle is located in the heart of Bunratty village, between Shannon and Limerick city in Clare county. Bunratty is also overlooked from it’s nearby flowing river which makes it’s way calmly towards the shannon estuary to the south, known as the ‘Ratty’ river, which helps us better understand the history of the name of the castle as ‘Bun Raite‘ or ‘Bun na Raite‘ translates from Irish into English meaning ‘river basin of the Ratty’.
Discovering the history of the Bunratty Castle
(Notice: Again, if history isn’t your cup of tea on a Friday or Saturday or whatever evening your currently experiencing, you may feel free to skim this section although we would strongly encourage you to stay as we believe knowing the history of a place your about to visit are grounded basics).
When we think of Bunratty castle and seem curious to find out the history behind the walls of this huge stone built structure that dates back to the 15th century, so tall that it may practically dominate the landscape in it’s area, when we even step foot onto the soils of Bunratty, we may not know that we are only talking about the fourth structure and that on those same exact grounds, stood three previous structures. These structures may no longer exist on those grounds however their existance has been noted down in history and…
…let’s just say that the history of the grounds Bunratty castle stands upon today are older than the current Bunratty castle itself !!
A good example of that may be, the first ever recorded settlement that has been believed to have resided there. According to the annals of the four masters, a Norsemen settlement trading camp has been discovered there and later destroyed in 977 AD by Brian Boru. No remains from this settlement have been found to this day which crumbles down on our hope whether there even was such a settlement there in the first place, however it shows how far back potentially the history of Bunratty goes.
The First Castle
The first ever structure that appeared on the site (with the exact location unkown), was believed to have been a ‘Motte and Bailey’, which was a fortification that featured a wooden or stone keep on a raised area of ground (motte) accompanied by a walled courtyard (bailey) which was also protected with a surrounding ditch or palisade and was known to be a defence mechanism used in the medieval times but abandoned at the turn of the 13th century.
The ‘Motte and Bailey’ was errected approx. around the year 1251, built by a guy known as ‘Robert De Muscegros’ who is believed to have cut down over 200 trees for the purpose of building the fortification. What’s the story with this Robert .. Musc something guy and how did he get there in the first place? Well one year before the construction, Robert De Muscegros was given this land known as ‘the district of Tradraighe’ back then, from King Henry III of England himself. Three years later Muscegros had obtained rights to hold markts aswell as organise fairs at the village, so all was splendid…
…unfortunetly not for too long as three decades later in 1276 these lands were taken back under the ruling of King Henry III with the structure being completely erased, either burned down to the ground or taken down and used to build other local construction works… or atleast that’s what the TodaysWanderluster Team believes as there are no remains left of Robert’s De Muscegros’s Motte and Bailey fortification.
The Second Castle
This leads us into the second structure, which was erected around the same time by a guy known as ‘Thomas De Clare’ (same story as the previous fella) who is known for building the first ever stone structure on the site, which featured a tall single stone tower with lime white walls. The location of this structure is thought to have been near the ‘Ratty’ river and on or at the fourth structure (aka the present day Bunratty castle).
De Clare’s stone castle in comparison with Robert De Muscegro’s Motte and Bailey was occupied for a little longer, from 1278 to 1318, however the castle through out most of it’s existance and on several times, was attacked by nearby clans like the O’Briens who in 1284, captured the castle and turned it into a pile of rubble. (..and all of that just in one night as we forgot to mention, Thomas De Clare who at the time of the besieging of the castle, stayed in England not knowing anything), .. so let’s just say, what a surprise he had when he arrived home.
The De Clare’s later rebuilt the castle only for it to crumble down once again in 1318, at a time of a major battle in which he and his son had died with Lady De Clare fleding to Limerick leaving the castle.. or what remianed of it, behind. As with the wooden fortification, there are no remains left behind of this structure to this day.
The Third Castle .. ?
Fast forwarding to the year 1353, where an English army led by Thomas de Rokeby was commissioned to conquer the MacNamaras and MacCarthys, a third structure was errected that we believe, would have aided the soldiers with their mission of defeating both clans in the area, however it is difficult to establish whether it lived up to the title…’castle’, as the structure was captured by the Irish before being finished. The exact location of the third structure is to this day unknown however it is believed that the construction began on the grounds of the present day ‘Bunratty Castle Hotel’.
This brings us over to the fourth hence the present day Bunratty Castle.
The Fourth Castle
Sir Thomas Rokeby is prooven to have been unlucky in leading the English Army to succeed in gaining victory over the battle against the MacNamaras clan (or atleast that’s what we believe, as in 1425 the present structure was built by their clan which later became the stronghold of the O’Briens, however let us know in the comments what you may think).
Until the year 1500, the Bunratty castle was under the ruling of the MacNamaras Clan who as mentioned earlier, were the clan who built the castle. It doesn’t come to us as a surprise that later the castle fell into the hands of the O’Briens, as from our research the O’Briens were regarded as the most powerful clan in the province of Munster at the time and they’re victory over the ‘De Clare’s’ in 1284, may only strengthen such a statement.
The castle was later made the chief seat of the O’Brien’s who moved it there from the nearby town of Ennis, who expanded the site and made numerous improvements to the castle like for example, adding in a new lead roof.
The O’Briens clan maintained their power over the Bunratty castle which still remained the principal seat of the Earls of Thomond up to the 1680s, despite numerous growing threats the castle faced throughout the Confederate Wars hence the O’Brien’s loss of power over the castle.
In the year 1712, the castle was sold by Henry (the last Earl of Thomond) to Thomas Armory who later sold the castle to Thomas Studdert in 1720. The Studdert Family held onto the castle however…
.. they didn’t live in the castle for too long as they moved to a more comfortable and more modern spot they built in 1804 known as the ‘Bunratty House’. That move became a crucial move for the castle as it fell into disrepair due to the lack of maintenance, with the roof of the Great Hall later collapsing, as one of the many results. In the 19th century, the castle served the purpose of local barracks used by the Royal Irish Constabulary with the Studdert Family who later made it the seat of captain Richard Studdert.
During the mid 20th century, as upsetting as it sounds but what became of the Bunratty castle one could simply put as “a worthless pile of stone on the side of the road”. The castle was seen hugely as ruins and was facing potential demolition…. for stone. What saved the castle from it’s alternative ending was a known mediaevalist who purchased the castle in 1953 for a nominal sum.
The castle was later purchased by the 7th Viscount Gort who with the aid of the Office of Public Works in 1956, restored aswell as reroofed the castle ultimately saving it from falling into ruins. In 1960, the castle was opened to the Public, exhibiting tapestries, the furniture typical of the 1600s aswell as other works of art among others.
…. and of course, still stands to this day.
The Bunratty Castle Today
Today, the Bunratty castle is regarded as a very popular and known tourist attraction in the region, famous for it’s medieval banquets which were performed back in the 1960s and are still performed to this day. Along with the castle, the castle grounds and it’s Folk Park add in greatly to the tourists experience of exploring Bunratty. However, more on that in the second section of this blog article.. .
What to see at Bunratty Castle
Now that we have discovered the History behind Bunratty castle and the grounds it’s stands on, let’s go ahead and explore what is awaiting us on our journey!!
The Bunratty Castle
How could we possibly begin our journey at Bunratty, if not with the actual castle itself..!
Bunratty Castle, a 15th century tower house, built in 1425, restored in 1954, is as regarded on Tripadvisor “the most complete and authentic medieval castle in Ireland”.
Walking towards the castle along it’s courtyard, we will notice the immense height of this stone structure, featuring almost an equal number of windows on all four of the towers that all seem to stand at an equal height with the crenelations on top that were used to aid the soldiers with defending the castle, simultaneously give the castle it’s crown.
The castle features a variety of different rooms, such as the Great Hall where the Lord of the castle would entertain his guests aswell as the south solar which may have been where the Lord’s family spend much of their time when staying in the four walls of the castle due to the greater light exposure from outside.. or simply saying, the room was brighter than any of the other rooms and therefore, more delightful or pleasant. One can wander around the castle, climb the numerous stairs that lead into many different rooms, each one more unique from the other however you’ll feel like your in the medieval times where ever curiosity takes you.
Restored in 1954, the Bunratty Collection exhibits furniture typical of the medieval times, tapestries aswell as other works and forms of art that together create the ideal atmosphere and vibe one can ask for when visiting the Bunratty castle.
Outside of this great stone structure (that appears to welcome all those first hand who just arrived into Ireland and are proceeding east from Shannon Airport on the N18) one can wonder into the Bunratty Gardens !!
Built in the 19th century and originally formed around the tower house, these gardens sometimes take many of it’s visitors by surpise as they are significantly small and if we dig a little bit deeper within the matter, we might just understand why. It is believed that a garden which extended over a greater distance once existed north of the Bunratty castle within an area known as the ‘demesne’. This garden was known to have functioned as a ‘kitchen garden’ and hence building another garden that would carry-out the same priorities… well, let’s just say it was no priority.
Before we move onto our next location, we feel that is its necessary to talk about what the Bunratty castle is hugely known for today. What brings to life the lifestyle of medieval Ireland are the yearly performed Bunratty Castle Banquets, that take place within the four walls of the castle. The award winning Banquet’s at Bunratty bring back the culture, traditions, the fashion, the food and music aswell as the spoken language in it’s distinctive accent all typical of the medieval times in Ireland. Essentially they bring back the past, providing that everyone who experiences the banquet will get a small taste of that lifestyle from the 15th century..
…now idk about you but i’d definetly be inclinded to try out that 15th century food, if you know what I mean.
The Bunratty Folk’s Park
Our next spot is the Bunratty Folk’s Park located just outside of the castle. Stepping onto the grounds of this Folk’s Park is like stepping into a time warp and re-emerging in the 19th century. The park features a 19th century irish village that contains a school, a post office, the McNamaras Pub, the hardware shop and a printers aswell as the numerous thatched houses and cottages like the ‘Byre Dwelling’ and other buildings like the Mill that obviously preserve that 19th century style and taste.
Through out the village, an appearance will make some of it’s animals, such as donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens with many of the baby kinds that the Pa’s Pet farm (introduced to the Bunratty Folk Park in memory of Pa Crowe who introduced animals to the park back in the 1960s) show, where not one will get to learn about these animals whilst also meeting them in person !!
For the youngest of visitors, the Fairy Trial & Village will aswell add to the experience of the park as they submerge themselves into the world of these mythical miniature creatures that in Ireland would be regarded as a legend, a story one could tell by the fire at night… however, may it only be a legend ?
The dream of being set back in time to the 19th century is further brought to life as the visitors will get to meet some of the village characters.
One can explore the ‘Lawrence Collection Ireland 1890’ where visitors may take a photo that they’ll get to bring back home where not only will the photo give away that typical 19th century look or feel, but the visitors themselves will go under a drastic make over where (if at this stage they haven’t felt like they stepped into a time warp, then all that is bound to change quickly) as they litteraly become the people of the time..!!
If you haven’t yet looked at the map of the Folk Park, you’ll be surprised by how vast it is and what other features does it have to show. On our research, we stumbled upon what may be the only church in the area, the ‘Ardcroney Church‘ located in the northern tip of the park. Built in 1838 and later moved to the Folk Park in Bunratty in 1998, it is a T-plan gable front church, with it’s name in irish ‘Ard Cróine‘ meaning ‘Cronia’s Height’.
What’s nearby also ?
Zooming out of Bunratty castle and it’s grounds, let’s check out what’s in the area to finish off our adventure of the Bunratty castle, in other words ‘adding in the extra touches’.
Slowly leaving the Bunratty village we can come across the Bunratty whinery where one can try out the famous mead and portcheen and the Creamery Bar classed as an ‘authentic quality irish bar’ aswell as restaurant.
To the east of Bunratty in the village of Cratloe (which as we discovered earlier, shares some history with Bunratty) one can visit the Cratloe woods, which are state owned woods located on the slopes of Woodcock Hillbeside, they are also known as a Forest Park Walk in the village. (Let us know if you’d like to hear more about the Cratloe woods in the future).
A little bit further from Cratloe, north-east we can find the ‘Woodcock Hill Bog’ which seems to be a nice spot in the area for some hiking !! Travelling on the N18 road towards or from the Shannon Airport, you’ll notice a small white sphere sitting on a hill in the far distance, that’s the Woodcock Hill Bog.
That’s all for this week !! Thank you for joining us on this adventure of the Bunratty Castle. We hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and found it informative. Stay tuned for our up-coming article, ‘Bunratty for the Photographers’ that reveal our Top 10 best viewing points and our previous article on the ‘Killarney for the Photographers‘ you may find here . You may share with us your feedback in our comments box below which will be hugely appreciated by our team.
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Au revoir and have a lovely weekend !!