Bunratty castle and folkpark – a visit to old Ireland

Only a few kilometers north of Limerick, at the bend of the river Ouwengarney, lies the old Bunratty castle. In the last decades a folk park has been created around the castle, where houses, workshops and whole villages from different periods of Irish history have been settled. There at Bunratty, visitors can trace the life and work of Irish country folk through the centuries and literally immerse themselves in the history of Ireland.

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A day like centuries – Bunratty folkpark

A visit to Bunratty castle and folkpark is highly recommended when exploring Ireland. Here you will get an authentic impression of life in the countryside in Ireland in the past centuries. In the park next to the stone castle tower, old Irish country houses were „collected“, i.e. brought from other places to Bunratty and rebuilt in a folk park. These can be walked through and their interiors reflect the living conditions of the rural population in different centuries. In addition to dwellings, there are workshops such as a blacksmith’s shop, mill, carpenter’s shop, most of which are operated by local workers during the warm season: There is baking, balladeers parade through the streets and perform, a policeman patrols on a bicycle, Irish wolfhounds are carried out…. short, it is Bunratty castle and folkpark a living museum with a great variety of themes.

Irish small town life of the last century

There is even a reconstructed small town with an elementary school, post office, pub, grocery store, country doctor’s office, etc., where you can feel like you’ve stepped back a century. Also animals like on the farm are to be found and in an area a whole, „modern“ farm with a multiplicity at land-technical devices like turning plow and threshing machine…

A village building in rural Ireland
Irish Wolfhound on a walk
Irish Wolfhound

The castle tower of Bunratty castle

The most prominent building, which of course catches the eye from the passing highway, is the tower castle Bunratty castle. This tower, built of gray granite ashlars, can be explored up to the roof, and from the top you have a beautiful view over the Ouwengarney river plain, the Shannon meadows and the village. An audience and banquet hall, the Great Hall, is the central room, which today can even be rented for private events. Other rooms like the fireplace room, kitchen, pantry, guard room and bedrooms illustrate the former life in a castle like Bunratty castle, which was certainly always quite dark (because of the narrow windows) and cool (because of thick walls). But even in the actually quite gloomy rooms of bunratty castle tower, the wonderful colorfulness of Irish house design is present.

Castle tower  Bunratty castle - attraction in Ireland
Bunratty castle tower
Zimmer mit geschwungener Kasetten - Decke in Bunratty castle
The kitchen of Bunratty castle
The kitchen in the tower

A look into the history of bunratty castle

From a Viking camp to the seat of Norman, Irish and English nobles

The Irish name Bhun Raite is derived from a place name and means ‚situated at the bend of the river Raite‚. As early as 970, more than 1050 years ago, the Vikings created a trading post at the mouth of the Ouwengarney into the nearby Shannon. Around 1250 the first wooden fortress Caisleán Bhun Raite was built by a Norman. Only twenty years later this was already replaced by a stone castle. This belonged to Thomas de Clare, an Anglo-Irish nobleman who began his career in Ireland first as Sheriff of Limerick. With Bunratty Castle as his stronghold, he moved against Irish nobles and defeated the last Irish king of Thomond in 1277, making Thomas de Clare Lord of Thomond. The village of Bhun Raite already housed about 1000 inhabitants.

However, during Irish-Norman troubles involving Thomas‘ son Richard de Clare, the castle and village were completely destroyed in 1318. The English king immediately ordered the rebuilding of the castle, which was again destroyed in the feuds between the Irish O’Brien and MacNamara clans.

Banquet hall  "Great Hall" in Bunratty castle tower
The Banquet hall

Around 1353 the new Bunratty Castle was built on the ruins by the English justiciar Thomas Rokeby. Again the castle fell into the hands of the Irish clans and went back and forth between the O’Briens and the MacNamaras. Under Henry VIII of England, the O’Briens regained the title Earl of Thomond. However, the invasion of Oliver Cromwell’s troops ended the brief Irish era in 1646.

When all Irish nobles were stripped and dispossessed in 1690, Protestant settler families from England were given the estate. After the Studderts family moved to a newly built manor house around 1804, Bunratty Castle fell into disrepair, so that by the end of the 19th century the roof had already collapsed.

A fireplace room in Bunratty tower castle

The beginning of a tourist development

In 1950 Lord Gort bought the castle and started the restoration of Bunratty Castle. From 1960 the castle could be visited by tourists. With the flourishing of tourism in the 1980s, a museum was established in the castle. In the park-like grounds around Bunratty Castle, typical Irish farmhouses and country houses were collected, which had to give way in other places. Even a church found its place. Bunratty folkpark came into being and became more and more lively, especially as since the 2000s craftsmen have been showing their art in the workshops and houses, everyday life has been re-enacted and the rich Irish cultural tradition has found its way in.

Forge fire in the village smithy
Forge fire in the village smithy
Booktitle "Angela's Ashes" - Frank McCourt's autobiography

Most of the current visitors come from North America, as many Irish-born tourists visit Limerick after the success of Frank McCourt’s autobiography „Angela’s Ashes“*, and Bunratty Castle is an obvious destination. Nevertheless, in my experience, the ensemble is far from being overcrowded, because the level of awareness of Bunratty Castle is currently still below that of other typical Irish sights.

Irish small town in the 19th century - main street in Bunratty folk park

Travel tips for Bunratty castle and folkpark

Journey

Bunratty by car

The journey to Bunratty castle by car or rental car* takes place from Limerick northwards via the national road N18 in the direction of Shannon Airport or Ennis.

Irish police man  - Garda with bicycle

There is a large visitor parking lot in front of the entrance to Bunratty Castle and folkpark (signposted via The Low Road). But even for convenient parking, it is advisable to arrive early. If the weather is fine, parking spaces can become scarce at a late hour.

Car rental in Limerick

In Limerick there is a station of the rent-a-car services of enterprise*. There you can rent a car e.g. for a week round trip in Ireland.

By public Bus to Bunratty

There are also frequent bus connections from Limerick (also from Ennis and Shannon Airport) to Bunratty castle, sometimes every half hour. The journey time from Limerick is 20 to 30 minutes. You can find connections e.g. on the website of TransportForIreland or the Irish national bus company Buseireann. With a change of bus, it is also possible to travel by public bus from other places in Ireland like Dublin or Cork City with buseireann expressbus.

The next airport is Shannon Airport, situated only some kilometers from Bunratty Castle and well connected by bus.

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Weather

For the weather at Bunratty castle to plan your visit, see the overview opposite. Weather forecast for the next days in the region north of Limerick.

Accommodation at Bunratty castle

If you want to make the most of your visit to Bunratty Castle and Folkpark, you should arrive early. Because in the folkpark you can easily spend a whole relaxing day. The surrounding area along the river is also very idyllic, so Bunratty can be a relaxing place to stay in Hotel. If you want to visit nearby Limerick but prefer not to stay in the city, you can stay in Bunratty instead and use the dense bus service. Shortly after arriving at or before departing from nearby Shannon Airport (only 6km), Bunratty may be your first or last stop in Ireland. In Bunratty a whole range of best rated accommodations mainly as B&B, but also as hotel are waiting for Ireland travelers.

Accommodation in Bed & Breakfast

The Dunaree Bed& Breakfast* offers various rooms for one to three guests in a beautiful house from a very green estate. Terrace and garden are available for all guests. Some requirements for accommodation of mobility impaired guests are given – ask the hostess about the specific possibilities! Parking is possible at the property.

Guests of Bunratty Meadows B&B* can stay in double rooms overlooking green meadows. This accommodation is around 2km away from Bunratty Castle. Coffee and tea facilities are available for guests in the lounge. There are also board games for evening entertainment. Parking is available at the property.

Water mill in  Bunratty folk park

Bunratty Haven* is a B&B with twin and triple rooms, about 2.5 km from Bunratty Folk Park. A garden is part of the house. Free parking is available for guests.

The Courtyard Guesthouse* is a B&B only about 800m from Bunratty Folkpark. Guests can stay in a variety of rooms ranging from one to three beds. Coffee and tea facilities are available in the rooms. As all living areas are on the ground floor, the rooms are easily accessible for guests with limited mobility. Parking is available free of charge.

Hotels in Bunratty

The ***Bunratty manor* operates as the on-site hotel. Single, double and triple rooms can be booked. If there is a need for more space, there is a family room. Coffee and tea making facilities are available in the rooms. It’s about an 800-meter walk to Bunratty castle and folkpark. The hotel includes the eponymous restaurant, which uses locally sourced produce and seafood. A selection of fine Irish and Scotch whiskies is also available. Parking is available in front of the hotel free of charge.

Church building in Bunratty folk park
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