It was time to say goodbye to Galway. Our plan was to spend the next several days back at Yvonne’s, which meant another long drive. I promised Mike that I’d make sure the GPS routing was keeping us on the best possible roads, rather than wandering all over the countryside.
Bunratty Castle is located near Limerick, Ireland and was directly along our return route, so we penciled in some time to stop and explore it a bit.
The first structure/castle at the location of Bunratty was built in 1251. The castle we visited was the 4th structure at the location and it was built in 1425 by the McNamaras who held the property until around 1500. Between 1500 and 1712, the property was under the control of the O’Briens. There were a lot of historical ups and downs during those couple of hundred years. The castle was sold in 1712, and then sold again in 1720 to the Studdart Family. The Studdarts built a newer home on the grounds in 1804 and left the castle to fall into disrepair. At some point part of the roof caved in.
In 1954, the 7th Viscount Gort purchased the castle and he began the process of restoring it. He is credited with saving the castle from ruin. Bunratty opened to the public in 1960 and is considered one of the most authentically restored and furnished castles in Ireland.
I enjoyed seeing this castle because it isn’t a ruin, but it also isn’t expertly or perfectly restored and decorated. It almost looked as if the inhabitants walked out the door 300 years ago and just left everything where it was…and then someone opened the door back up in 1960… And left it just as they found it –dust and all.
Over the years a “folk park” has been added as part of the grounds. They’ve tried to recreate how people would have lived outside of the castle walls. They’ve brought in different types of cottages and old houses from different parts of Ireland as examples of the types of traditional dwellings. They also had stone-walled pens for different animals, such as goats and pigs.
The entrance to the grounds is about halfway along the folk park, with the castle to the left. Our main focus was the castle, so we headed there first, walking by a few cottages along the way.
As you enter the castle itself, there is a large, low ceilinged room where the guards lived. It was hard to get a picture in there. It had many long tables with benches. The men would have eaten and slept in there.
Another level up was the Great Hall with a very high ceiling.
For two of these, if you were upstairs in one corner and needed to go to the same level on the other corner, you’d have to go down to the Great Hall first and then go to the other staircase. On the other two corners, there was a narrow hallway running along the back wall of the Great Hall one level up. You could get between the two staircases on that end through the hallway “shortcut”.
Several rooms were set up to show how the rooms would have been used back in the day. These rooms were extremely small and they had them gated off -so pictures were a bit challenging to take. There were a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen, a chapel and a private “office” for the Earl. If you went up far enough, you could step out onto the battlements and see the view.
I got a great workout going up and down the stairs in all four corners! The next day my thighs were sore.
We breezed through the rest of the Folk Village and grabbed a bite to eat at the welcome center café.
We still had a few hours of driving to do to get to Dunbeacon (Yvonne) and Mike wanted to avoid having to drive in the dark if we could –so we needed to hit the road.
We did manage to map a better route today and made very good time getting back to Yvonne’s. We are all looking forward to a bit of a slower pace for the next few days.