Bunratty Castle is a medieval castle on the River Shannon in the village of Bunratty in County Clare.
Along with the folk park next to it, the castle is a passport to another time where you can experience life in Ireland in the 19th century.
The area is run by Shannon Heritage and they have gone to great effort to restore old ruins and construct new period buildings so visitors can get an authentic glimpse at how Irish people of differing social status, from lords to gypsies, used to live.
There is entertainment in the form of medieval banquets in the castle and the folk park contains several elements of the lives of the villagers.
The name Bunratty Castle comes from the Irish ‘Caisleán Bhun Raithe’, which means ‘Castle in the mouth of Ratty’.
The first incarnation of the castle was built in 1270, about 300 years after the Vikings first settled in the area. It was used as a defence fortress or ‘motte and bailey’ castle and contained a watch tower.
Over the centuries the castle has been taken over several times by the English and each time the Irish clans like the O’Briens and the MacNamaras have eventually fought to reclaim it.
It has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, often after it had been fought over but also when it had been neglected and left to lie in ruins for several years.
The current structure of the castle was built by the MacNamara clan in 1425. It is a three storey high rectangular building with two towers on opposite corners. It wasn’t long before the O’Briens, who were the more powerful clan, claimed the castle for themselves.
Over the years the O’Briens became more friendly with the English nobility and when Barnabas O’Brien gave permission for the English Parliamentary garrison to land in Bunratty in 1646, it did not go down well with the Irish.
They laid siege to the castle and O’Brien had to flee to England for his own safety. The castle was taken by the Studdert family but they left in the early 1800s after they built Bunratty House which was more homely and modern.
Today the Castle and Park are used to entertain visitors.
Bunratty Folk Park