Bunratty Castle is a powerful and towering structure which dominates its surrounding landscape. Perfectly situated a stone’s throw from the Shannon Estuary, 15 km west of Limerick city and 12km from Shannon Airport, this imposing Castle can easily be seen long before reaching Bunratty.
Bunratty Castle was built on the site of an earlier Viking settlement. Norman Robert de Muscegros began constructing a motte and bailey defensive fort/castle in 1250. It is similar to other Anglo-Norman Castles in Ireland, such as those found in Carrickfergus & Kilkenny.
After that, a stone castle was built in its place and over the years the castle would be built, destroyed and rebuilt several times.
The present version of Bunratty Castle was erected by the MacNamara family in 1425. And 50 years later it passed into the hands of the powerful O’Brien family, a huge clan whose lands & castles were all over the southwest region of Munster. Under their ownership, the castle was renovated and then made the Chief Seat of their Clan.
Henry VIII wasn’t a great king for England and even less so for Ireland. He ordered Irish lands to be surrendered to the Crown and regranted them to certain families if they proved their loyalty. As a result, the O’Briens passed the test and became the Earls of Thomond, reluctant loyal “British” subjects. In order to prove their loyalty they had to renounce their Catholic faith and join the newly-founded Anglican church. Because of this, the question of faith would remain a divisive force in Ireland throughout the centuries, continuing to the present day.
Therefore, Bunratty Castle remained under the O’Briens and the principle seat of the Earls of Thomond until 1712. After this, it was sold to a Thomas Studdert who allowed the property to fall into disrepair. But in 1960, with assistance from the Office of Public Works the 7th Viscount Gort purchased the castle and restored it to its current state and opened it to the public.
Bunratty Castle is open for visitors all year round and hosts an annual medieval-era banquet. The Castle is set up to showcase its former glory, with many rooms decorated in a medieval style. In addition, it is complete with dungeons, a great hall, bedrooms, towers and of course extensive grounds. Because of this work, it is considered a National Monument and is managed by the OPW (Office of Public Works).
Moreover, the Castle differs from other Irish castles because it also houses an extensive folk park, complete with rural cottages, blacksmith forges, farms, school, doctor’s surgery, a Georgian manor, and even a full reconstructed village street with several period shops. And there is even a pub!
The folk park reenacts Irish village and rural life from the 19th century, quite a contrast to the luxury experienced from within the confines of the Castle at one time. It is designed to show visitors how Ireland would have looked in the not-so-distant past, when a large portion of the Irish population resided in rural areas, coming together at village markets to trade, sell and purchase goods with their neighbours.
For kids, it also has a large play area and an adorable Fairy Trail.
Limerick City isn’t Ireland’s most well-known destination but you’d be surprised at what you can be find. King John’s Castle is the most popular attraction. Situated on Kings Island in the city centre, this huge castle rises loftily up from the riverbank. Different in style to Bunratty, King John’s stronghold is less comfort and more might. Constructed by the Anglo-Norman King John in 1200 to defend the city from the surrounding Gaelic Lords (from who usurped the lands, and were therefore rightfully angered), it is built on a site that was previously a Viking stronghold.
Limerick city is also home to a few museums, including the Hunt Museum, which houses the lifetime collection of archeologist, antiquarian, and collector John Hunt. This is the very same man who helped the Viscount Gort restore Bunratty castle in the mid 20th century. Here, you’ll find artefacts from around the world, including Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Olmecs, from the Stone Age through the Iron and Bronze Ages, medieval Christian relics, artworks by the likes of Picasso, Renoir, Yeats and more. They also have online exhibitions, perfect for those visiting from afar.
Adare is a beautifully quaint village just south of Limerick City and home to a host of gorgeous thatched houses and enticing crafts shops, as well as dramatic ruins of a castle as well as several monasteries nearby. This is the perfect place to get a feel for what an Irish village may have looked like before modern times. Don’t forget your camera – no matter what lens you have, you’re sure to capture some very picturesque shots of Adare village.
Hundreds of acres of mixed woodland await you at Curraghchase Park, a forest park that is home to a wealth of walking trails, as well as the haunting remains of a once-splendid Georgian home known as Curraghchase House. The house was burned down in mysterious circumstances on a stormy night, and it is said guests of the house saw the ‘Lady of the Lake’ just before the fire. Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson was a frequent visitor to the house and is said to have witnessed the spectre first hand on a few occasions.
The historic market town of Ennis is the capital of County Clare and is known for historic past and bustling present. It is a great alternative to Limerick if you want a cosmopolitan feel without the stress of a city. Smaller in size in comparison to Limerick, you’ll be within walking distance from a number of sights. From Ennis, you can easily travel to the coast and places like Kilkee, Loop Head and up to the wild landscapes of the Burren National Park.
Craggaunowen is an award-winning heritage park from which you can explore the roots of the Celtic people. On site you’ll find reconstructed buildings from the Bronze Age, a Crannog (artificial island) and an Iron Age road system, allowing you to delve into the way of life in ancient Ireland. You’ll also find Knappogue Castle here and reconstructed boat used to sail to America.
We highly recommend staying at the 5* Dromoland Castle. It’s an amazing location, not just because of it’s luxury but also it’s place in history, as it was a mighty O’Brien stronghold for 900 years, much like Bunratty Castle.
If you’re looking for even more luxury, then the 5* Adare Manor on the opposite side of the Shannon Estuary from Dromoland Castle, is perfect for you. This spectacular manor sits at the edge of one of Ireland’s quaintest villages, Adare, home to thatched roof houses, beautiful ruins and magnificent monasteries.
For those looking for a bit more cosmopolitan charm, there are a number of options in Limerick, such as Pery Square, The Savoy or Limerick Strand. These 3 and 4 star boutique hotels are centrally located and within walking distance of shops, restaurants and sights.
Contact us to plan an amazing holiday on the West coast of Ireland, including a stop at Bunratty Castle, or any of Ireland’s other great fortifications.
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