Although there are the ruins of castles to be found all over Ireland and the United Kingdom, only a small percentage of them actually survive as a full castle like most of us would imagine. There are a handful of castles that fell into disrepair and ruin but were restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for us to visit and enjoy, like Bunratty Castle! If you are heading out to the west coast of Ireland, Bunratty Castle and grounds is certainly worth a day spent wandering learning about life in medieval Ireland.
Bunratty Castle is a tower house dating back to the fifteenth century. Located in Bunratty village (between Limerick and Ennis in Co. Clare), the castle and its grounds were restored by the 7th Viscount Gort in the mid 1950s. It is now used for tours, medieval banquets, and different events- you can even book an event there! The castle that remains was built by the MacNamara family. In the centuries following, it bounced around from one holder to the next; being used by various government figures, families, and even as barracks for the military. The roof collapsed in at the end of the nineteenth century and the castle fell into disuse for the next half century until it was restored.
The title of Earl of Thomond was created by Henry VIII under the Surrender and Regrant offer- Irish nobles surrendered their Irish titles in exchange for English titles that were approved and recognised by the English monarchy and government. The title became finally extinct in 1774 and has not been in use since.
Is a castle a castle without a dungeon? I don’t know if this makes me a “bad” historian, but I’ve never really been interested in dungeons and torture. Still it’s interesting to know that it was considered so important that it was built into the castle!
1. Yes, the medieval toilet still exists. People seem to be fascinated by medieval toilets, and they are every bit disgusting as you might imagine they would be. No one wants to be standing near where that comes out, but sadly that was someone’s job. (Makes it hard to complain about your job when someone literally had poop rain down on them….) 2. They had to actually put a lock on the door because too many people were trying to get at it. Why would you want to get close to five hundred year old toilet? WHY?
Some aspects of the castle are rather camp in their restoration, but the details in the fabrics and the carvings and the stained glass windows are just beautiful. When you think of the time and money that medieval lords put into their space, it is sometimes astounding.
Is any medieval hall complete without the requisite antlers and hunting trophies??
I must say, the view from the castle itself is fairly gorgeous. Rolling green hills and the Raite River make for a picturesque shot, no? I also love that you can go out on the roof, as it gives you a much better construction of the defensive features of the castle!
I would give yourself the better part of a day to spend at Bunratty, as the grounds are also good fun! There are shops and cottages and a barn and a school, that give you an idea of what life in the village would have been like in the nineteenth century. The wool shop sells some beautiful pieces, and the small cafe was delicious.
I don’t know why, but this sign struck me as very important given the role of religion in early modern and modern Ireland!
Bunratty Castle is a window into medieval life in Ireland, and a fun way to experience a true medieval castle! Although historians do like to be serious and academic in all that we do, sometimes it’s fun to embrace an adventure and enjoy the camp!
What is your favourite castle?