Bunratty Castle and Folk ParkApprox. Time: 2 hours
Activity Level: Easiest

Bunratty (Bun Raite) Castle overlooks the River Shannon. The castle is in excellent condition and well worth the visit.

The Vikings built a fortified settlement at this spot, a former island surrounded by a moat. Then the Normans came: Thomas de Clare built the first stone structure on the site in the 1270's. The present castle is the fourth or fifth structure to occupy the location beside the River Ratty.

The castle was built in the early 1400's by the McNamara family, but fell shortly afterwards to the O'Briens, kings of Thomond, who controlled the castle until the 17th century. Admiral Penn, father of William Penn, resided here for a short time.

Today, the castle's Great Hall hold a very fine collection of 14th to 18th century furniture, paintings, and wall hangings. The Great Hall also hosts "medieval banquets" complete with maids playing the harp, court jesters, food a la the middle ages, and mead (a honey wine favored by the Irish in the middle ages).

The Folk Park adjoins the castle and aims to show what everyday life was like in rural Ireland about 100 years ago. It contains reconstructed farmhouses, cottages and shops, and care has been taken to make them as authentic as possible, particularly with regard to furnishings.

The Park is a living museum : animals are tended, bread is baked, milk is churned, walls are whitewashed and roofs are thatched. You may visit an Irish farmhouse, watch the blacksmith fit a horseshoe, attend a weaving demonstration, and bake and eat scones at the local tea house.