Looking for a fun day out for the whole family? Why not head over to the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland and step back in time to 19th-century Ireland at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Make sure to download a copy of the map of the park before your visit so you can plan your day out!
Bunratty Castle and its History
Bunratty Castle, located in the idyllic countryside of Co. Clare, stands on the location of a Viking trading camp from 970. Today, what remains is the last of four different castles that once stood proudly on the grounds.
In 1250, Robert De Muscegros, a Norman, built the first defensive fortress. This was an earthen mound with a strong wooden tower on top. Some years later, this land was granted to Thomas De Clare, who built the first stone castle. This was the time when Bunratty became a large town of around 1,000 inhabitants. After the death of De Clare, when the town and the castle were completely destroyed, both were later restored for the King of England but both quickly returned to waste in 1332.
Both the town and the castle lay in ruins for 21 years until Sir Thomas Rokeby rebuilt it. Once again, the town was attacked by the Irish and from this point, the castle has remained in Irish hands.
Sketch of a defensive fortress built on the site where Bunratty Castle now stands. Image via Bunratty Castle website
The castle that stands today was built by the powerful MacNamara family around 1425. By 1475 however, the castle and its grounds became property of the O’Briens, the largest clan in North Munster. While it is not known why exactly the possession of the castle was changed, it is believed that it was almost certainly not as a result of conquest as the relationship between the two clans was very close. Instead, it is believed to have been as a result of marriage or a tribute.
Image via Instagram
Travelling back in time in the Castle
The castle that is still standing today, and that guests can explore, was built around 1425, making it nearly 600 years old. By simply stepping foot inside the castle, guests can step back in time to mediaeval Ireland. Past the grand banquet hall, guests can climb the winding staircases, making sure to look out narrow windows, to reach a number of bedrooms and kitchens.
Looking into the bedrooms, guests will be able to see the rooms set up the way they would have been when the castle was the home of the MacNamara or the O’Brien families. As Bunratty Castle has the finest and most extensive collection of medieval furniture in the country, guests will be able to see old tapestries that used to hang on the castle walls to ensure warmth, intricate costumes of the time, along with furniture from the time period.
One of the bedrooms in Bunratty Castle, set up the way it would have been when the castle was in use. Image via A Moveable Marriage.
For an impressive view of the Clare countryside, continue climbing up the spiral staircase inside the turrets of the castle. Here, if accompanied by a tour guide, guests will hear the stories of the archers that protected Bunratty Castle when it was under enemy attack.
A walk through the Folk Park
If you’re looking to be transported into 19th Century Ireland, look no further than the Folk Park just outside Bunratty Castle. The Folk Park features over 30 buildings in a ‘living’ village. Spanning rural farmhouses, village shops, and even the school where young boys and girls attended classes, guests can visit these buildings that are fully furnished as they would have been in the 19th century.
Make sure to chat to people working in the shops and visit the doctor in his house. You might also catch the Bean an Tí (woman of the house) preparing soda bread, griddle cake, or an apple tart while exploring the village. Keep an eye out for some policemen from the early nineteenth century patrolling the streets of the folk park! If you have time, why not visit the school (separated by boys and girls), located on the village street, and see the school teacher give lessons like he would have in early 19th century Ireland.
Guests will also have the opportunity to view old instruments used by the town doctor in 19th century Ireland and have a conversation with him when visiting the doctor’s house.
Bean an Ti baking apple pie. Image via Instagram
If you’re looking to see how people lived, the Folk Park also provides a window into the past living conditions. Spread across 26 acres, guests can find an array of traditional Irish farmhouses. The Loop Head Farmhouse, for example, would have been the house of a small fisher-farmer. It is this house where guests can catch a glimpse of the Bean an Ti baking bread in the traditionally Irish way.
The Bothan Scóir Farmhouse is another dwelling that can be seen throughout the village. This is a one-room dwelling that would have belonged to a poor landless labourer. Many of these types of dwellings would have fallen into disrepair or were destroyed during the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1847. In contrast to this dwelling, the Golden Vale Farmhouse presents the home of a prosperous farmer. This house, unlike the previous, has stables, byres, and a corn barn. The Byre Dwelling is an example of a dwelling from Co. Mayo in which both humans and their milking cows lived.
Byre Dwelling, an example of a house where both humans and animals inhabited. Image via Twitter
The magical Fairy Trail
Located in the woodland section of the castle grounds, the Fairy Trail is perfect for children of all ages. Using the interactive Bunratty Trail booklet that can either be downloaded or picked up at Admissions, guests are encouraged to solve clues to make their way around the trail.
While exploring the enchanting Fairy Trails, guests must make sure not to disturb the fairies’ homes and places of work as they take much pride in what they do. Fairies are also said to have a mild strawberry scent, so if you walk into a room or garden that smells like strawberries but there are no strawberries to be seen, it is likely a fairy has been there!
Image via Bunratty Castle and Folk Park website
A feast at the Medieval Banquet
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the world of Bunratty Castle even more, why not attend the Medieval Banquet. Get the opportunity to enjoy a four-course meal, that was once reserved for members of the nobility but can today be experienced by everyone, in the historic castle’s Great Hall. Listen to music provided by the world-famous Bunratty Castle Singers while you enjoy your feast, and if you like the music, make sure to buy a copy of the cd on your way out!
Before the meal, the Earl’s Butler will welcome guests, toasting an era of great Irish taste with food, wine, and honey mead. Throughout the night, guests will experience a night to remember, with a constant flow of mead for anyone looking for it. For one unlucky guest, however, some time in the dungeon might be experienced.
Below is the Medieval Banquet menu, and for any guests looking for it, there are also vegetarian and vegan options available.
- Bunratty Mead
- Spiced Parsnip Soup served with Irish Soda Bread.
- World Famous Bunratty Spare Ribs with Honey & Whiskey Sauce
- Pan Fried Supreme of Chicken, Fresh Garden Vegetables, Baby Roast Potato & Bordelaise Sauce
- “Rastin”- A Bramley Apple & Cinnamon Crunch, served with Chantilly Cream
- Freshly Brewed Tea and Coffee
And remember, to fully be transported back in time, any guest willing will eat their meal with the knife provided and their hands!
Image via TripAdvisor
As of 2023, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park will be open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. The last admission of the evening to the castle is 4 pm.
- Bunratty Castle and Folk Park tickets
- Adult Visit- €15.25
- Child Visit (4-18yrs)- €11.50
- Child Visit (0-3yrs)- €0.00
- Family Visit (2&2)- €40.85
- Senior/Student Visit- €11.50
- Family Visit (2 adults, 6 children)- €61.50
- Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet
- Adult- €66.00
- Child (4-10yrs)- €37.50
- Combo Ticket- Bunratty & Craggaunowen
- Adult- €23.00
- Child- €14.00
- Senior/Student- €16.50
- Family (2&2)- €58.00
- Family (2 adults, 6 children)- €88.00
- Céilí in the Kitchen **April to September only**
- Adult- €49.95
- Child- €35.00
- Child (0-4yrs)- €0.00
If you are looking for a day out for the whole family, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are a perfect way to escape boredom this summer. If you are looking to experience more of what Bunratty Castle has to offer, why not attend the memorable Medieval Banquet feast and enjoy the music while you dig into the delicious food and drink that would have been enjoyed by the nobility in mediaeval Ireland.
Make sure to check out more articles on our website if you are looking for more fun activities to do in Ireland.