Living History: Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Ireland with the Texas Master Chorale. We sang in lovely venues and visited many beautiful natural and manmade sites. Though the series on living history museums has ended, I discovered a charming folk park near Shannon worth a look.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park traces Irish cultural and social history from Medieval times through the 19th century. Although all but the castle are reconstructions, the buildings appear very authentic based on my visits to other sites with original constructions. The great thing about Bunratty is that it represents Irish life from the poorest one-room cottage dweller up to the lord of the manor. The actors and the staff are friendly, gracious, and generous with their time.
I had a wonderful and enlightening conversation with Ann McInerney, a fifteen year veteran with the park. She kindly spent her tea break allowing me to pepper her with questions, answering them in detail. When asked what the park meant to her, she replied, “When I pull up in the morning and smell the smoke from the peat and see the thatch on the roofs, I feel like how it was in the past. I feel like I am stepping into the Ireland of years ago. I like showing how it was back then.” Of course for her, stepping into the past is exactly what she is doing. As one of the actors demonstrating the ways of housekeeping, cooking and baking in a fireplace, foods eaten, and other details of daily life during the 18th and 19th centuries, she fills the positions of both teacher and preserver of Irish cultural and social history.
There has been a fortified structure on the site of the present Medieval castle since around 1250 when the English King Henry III granted the district of Tradree to Robert de Muscegros. Over the following 175 years, three more structures, at first of timber and later of stone, were built. In approximately 1425, the present castle was constructed by the McNamara family. It passed among O’Briens, Amories, and Studderts, survived sieges and wars, and fell into near ruin until it was saved and restored by the 7th Viscount Gort in 1956. Once the roof no longer allowed the elements to pour in and the structure was sound enough to allow the public inside, the castle opened for visitors in 1960. Its upper floors contain furniture, tapestries, and art dating from about 1600. As a tourist attraction, Shannon Heritage hosts Medieval banquets in the Great Hall featuring the beautifully blended voices of the Bunratty Singers dressed is period costumes and no utensils other than a steak knife.
The Folk Park features a collection of dwellings representing life as lived during the 18th and 19th centuries by everyone from the poorest family living in one room to the very rich in their castle. When the castle fell into disrepair and was no longer comfortably habitable, the owner at the time built a lovely Georgian home several hundred yards from the crumbling castle.
The gallery below features photos taken on my June 19 visit.
Walled Regency garden
Interior of the Georgian house.
Diners being piped into the banquet hall.