Located close to Shannon Airport and therefore often the first stop for those arriving in Ireland, Bunratty is quite busy and touristy but nonetheless it is well worth spending at least a half day here, and it would be easy to stay for a full day.
The centrepiece is without question the castle, the interior of which has been restored and can be explored at leisure, with guides available inside to answer any questions you have.
Bunratty Castle and Durty Nelly’s at dusk by gazzat
The climb to the battlements at the top, up a narrow and winding staircase, is a little arduous but worth it for the magnificent views over the park and the surrounding countryside.
Outside the park is largely made up of three sections.
In the first is a series of typical country houses of various eras, from the dwelling of poor fishermen and farmers, which are sparse to say the least, to the more comfortable home of a ‘strong’ farmer.
All are authentic houses of their period, which have been rebuilt on their current sites, and are furnished as they would have been at the time.
Several have people in them, in costume, going about their daily chores – which often included baking delicious scones that visitors are welcome to sample!
The walk through these houses eventually leads to the village, a typical late 19th century one with a doctors house, a school, several shops and, of course, a pub!
It doesn’t actually look that much different from many small Irish towns today.
Kids really enjoy the old-fashioned school house with its wooden desks, ink pots and the work of past students adorning the walls.
Some of the shops sell quite well priced gifts or old fashioned boiled sweets. The pub is fully functional and, surprisingly given its locations, serves excellent lunches and snacks, home cooked and good value. At night there are traditional music sessions.
There is also a photographers workshop – where you can don old clothes and have a sepia tinted picture of your self, apparently gone back in time.
The Big House
Finally there is a winding walk past a church (where you can ring the bell!) to a country house, home of the local landlord, which is far more comfortable than any of the other houses in the park.
It is furnished in a manner befitting the status of such a family, and strikingly different from the cottages. The children’s bedroom is full of antique toys, carefully roped off but still a very big temptation even for today’s kids!
There is an interesting collection of farm implements in the outbuildings in the yard of the house.
Bunratty at Night
At night Bunratty Castle come to life with the well known and popular Bunratty Medieval Banquets, held twice nightly.
Yes, these are very ‘touristy’, but they are fun too. Held in the banqueting hall of the castle, the banquets include entertainment by very talented Irish musicians and singers and a surprisingly delicious meal accompanied by goblets of mead.
If you plan to attend a banquet it is highly advisable to book well in advance, especially during the main tourist season from June to September.
If the castle banquet is not your thing or is already fully booked, there is an alternative in the Corn Barn, with an evening of song, dance and story telling held every night from April to October. A meal of Irish stew is served and very tasty it is too!
For a less organised evening, visit Macs Pub after the park closes, there is generally a traditional music session in full swing by about 9pm. Just outside the castle gates in Durty Nellie’s famous (infamous?) pub, where excellent meals are served and there is also traditional music played by local musicians.
The park is open all year round.
- Jan – Mar: 9.30-17.30
- Apr – May: 9.00-17.30
- June – Aug: 9.00 û 18.00
- Sep – Oct: 9.00-17.30
- Nov – Dec: 9.30-17.30
Note that because the first banquet starts at 5.30pm, the Castle closes to visitors at about 4.30pm.
Mac’s pub in the village is open in the evening and can be reached without an entrance fee via a gate a short walk past the main entrance.