One of the joys of visiting Ireland is learning about the history. Castles, ruins, and age-old buildings abound – what to see first? While we loved almost everything in County Kerry, Ireland (including the amazing Muckross House), nothing caught our interest like Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (run by Shannon Heritage). It’s an entire village & castle, located in Bunratty, near the Shannon Airport (we recommend staying at the Bunratty Castle Mews B&B – friendliest people in Ireland!).

The Bunratty Castle Folk Park is located in 26 acres, and recreates life in the 19th century, with over 30 buildings. You can see houses and buildings from all over Ireland, from humble one-room cottages to grander buildings for local businessmen. There’s a street with plenty of shops, and even a pub! There are 2 extremely large Irish Wolfhounds, and gypsy carts and horses. It’s a living museum, complete with locals working at thatching, making apple pies, etc. so that visitors can see the way life was lived.

The castle is a medieval fortress, restored in 1954 and home to a daily medieval banquet! It is located within the Folk Park – so it’s a two –for-one entry. If you plan on attending the banquet, you’ll need to make reservations in advance. Go earlier in the day to explore the park and castle – lots of tiny, winding stairways to access various levels, a dungeon, and plenty of beautiful historic furniture. It’s truly amazing.

The banquet! First, might I say, best food in Ireland? Yes. It’s true. But I digress. Head into the Castle through the Great Hall, where you’ll receive a pottery cup of mead and a bite of ‘friendship’ – bread, dipped in a bit of salt. You can meet other guests, and listen whilst the Bunratty Castle Entertainers play beautiful ancient music on strings, with song. Then, head down to the dining room – it’s a communal dining experience, so you never know who your table-mates will be! One guest is chosen to be the Earl for the night, and he will open the banquet (and provide a bit of entertainment, later).
Dinner was served family-style, and is a four-course meal. You have beautiful pottery dishes, a sharp knife, and your handy fingers. While and after the Entertainers served the meal, they provided an extraordinary musical experience – blending their voices in song, with an amazing fiddler. They wore velvet period costumes, complete with hats. Dining by candle-light, with the music and plenty of new folks to get to know, was a fantastic experience. While we didn’t have dogs, rats, or dirty rushes at our feet, we did get a glimpse of life in an Old Irish Castle. We’ll be back.



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