A Traditional Feast In a Norman Castle.
The Earl of Thomond greets me and my two accompanying wenches — Carol and Mary — at the gate of Bunratty Castle. He points overhead: “If you misbehave hot oil will scald thee!” The Earl points down: “and you will fall through the trap door never to be heard from again!”
More Mead M’Lord?
The medieval ages have returned to Ireland as the Earl of Thomond guides us up a serpentine stairway tunnel carved in the entrails of the limestone fortress, debouching into the Great Hall, or clan gathering place in the center of the Castle. The Ladies of the Castle await with warm medieval mugs of mead. A fire burns in the Great Hall pit. The Great Hall served as the gathering place for the great Celtic clans for over five hundred years. A harpist and violinist perform traditional Irish ballads as the ladies sing in cherubic synchrony. Each lady is replete with period costume, heavy purple, indigo, russet, burgundy, or maroon velvet gowns that move as gracefully as their lithe bodies.
Overhead hangs a huge ancient Great Irish Elk antler, extinct long before the Castle was built in 1425, but found in the local peat bogs, preserved because of the bog’s lack of oxygen.
The King is served by a damsel.
A King and Queen of the medieval banquet are pulled from the visiting tourist crowd (maximum group during each banquet is 140) and they are seated on the royal throne. This hails “More Mead M’ Lord!”, the fermented drink of choice, and the only fermented drink of choice, of the medieval ages. One of the Ladies of the Castle informs us that mead, made from honey, is served to newlyweds for a month, from one moon to the next, hence the name, “honeymoon!”
The Earl shouts, “More Mead!” The peasants respond: “Yes, More Mead M’ Lord.”
Thus begins a night of medieval debauchery, lecherous behavior, and gluttony.
The Clans gathered in the Great Hall.
The Castle Bunratty, often called Bunraite in ancient times, is the jewel of the west of Ireland, and the 26 acres surrounding the crenellated rectangular Keep, the finest of its type in Eire, includes a reconstructed Folk Parkvillage. Such villages sprang up around castles, where the merchants, serfs, farmers, and peasants lived and supported the nobility with their wares and labors.
The Castle has two nightly banquets year around, but if you arrive in the summer you can take in the Ceili or traditional gathering with Irish music of the people that is as old as time. Ceili is a 18th/19thcentury Gaelic word meaning a gathering, coming together in the biggest barn in the district to sing, dance, and tell stories. At Bunratty Folk Park a Ceili is held every night from May to October. This is an evening of wild entertainment with a difference, no where else can you experience the fun of what the Irish do best — enjoy themselves.
Just a few of the beautiful Ladies of the Castle.
Listen to the piper, fiddler, bodhran, singers, and watch the dancers weave the story of the tradition of the Celts. Enjoy home cooked food, excellent wine, and join in with song and dance. The Ceili is twice nightly (subject to demand), at 17:30 and 20:45. If you arrive at the Castle in early July you will see costumed knights on the grounds, cooking traditional foods, displaying superb swordsmanship, and fighting over the local and beautiful wenches.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Parkrepresent a microcosm of Irish history. At one end is the Castle, built in 1425 by the MacNamara Clan; the history of this beautiful building stretches over 500 years of turbulence. However, it was the Vikings who first set up a trading post in Bunratty in 950 AD. There have been four castles on the site. The Castle was acquired by the Anglo-Irish Studdart family in 1720, which lived there until the 19th century when they abandoned the Castle and built Bunratty House, which stands on a hill on the opposite end of the Folk Park.
It was in 1954 that Lord Gort purchased the Castle and restored it to its present and splendid condition. The huge stones under my feet in the Great Hall are not the original slabs, but imported from a villa in Italy, but from the same era. When Lord Gort purchased the Castle there was no roof and rain had pitted the floor. He also installed the finest collection of medieval furniture in the country, thereby preserving a vital part of the Celt past and heritage of County Clare. This is a living classic castle, with the period furniture, tapestries, and works of art on display. The reasons for tapestries were to cut down on the cold, winter draughts. In ancient days all merchants and noblemen filled their homes with wine, furniture, and iron from Spain and France, tapestries and bronze dishes from the Netherlands, leather and cloth from Germany and Italy, and spices from the Levant. Irish furniture and furnishings have vanished from castles and homes over the centuries. Only three or four Irish pieces dating to pre-1600 still exist, two of which are in Bunratty Castle.
The Bunratty troupe, singers, and musicians, with the
Earl of Thomond, second from right.
Bunratty Castle stands on the former island of Tradaree, a spur of the beautiful Shannon River, the longest in Europe at 200 miles, still flowing in the vale in front of the Castle. During my afternoon visit to the Castle the views of the Shannon from the tower slit windows and battlements are magnificent, with cows grazing peacefully like they did hundreds of years ago in green lushness.
I think how great it would be to live in a castle, until I see one of the dank, smelly bedrooms, and think of the pests, lack of running water, and general unsanitary conditions. Even the Earl of Thomond slept on hay stuffed beds, so hence the term, hitting the hay!
Some of the most famous events of the Castle took place in the mid-17thcentury. During the Great Rebellion, which began in 1641, Bunratty was the chief seat of Barnaby, the sixth Earl.
The present Earl of Thomond is a generous host. “More Mead,” he proclaims. “Yes. More Mead M’ Lord,” responds the smelly throng of serfs as we are led to the banquet hall below us for the traditional medieval banquet.
Medieval banquets at Bunratty Castle are held twice nightly year around.
My two mannerless wenches and I are ensconced in the original towering lead glass front window in the castle apse; the stained glass colors are not apparent in the autumn night.
The Ladies of the Castle serve us serfs medieval-style, dishes of meats, potatoes, and vegetables heaped high and plopped down, as we sit anxiously at long wooden tables. But first the Earl tests a piece of meat on a skewer to see if it is . . . poisoned! We wait in anticipation. He drops the meat and skewer and gags. Will there be no banquet? Is the meat poisoned? “My God, that is hot!” shouts the Earl. The peasants are relieved. The banquet continues, but with no spoons or forks, only knives to spear the potatoes, pork, chicken, and ribs. Modern red and white wines are served during the dinner, but in traditional clay jugs. I gander over at my two wenches to see what they are gnashing. The same thing as I? The diet of the Middle Ages was unvaried, thus few peasants made it into middle age!
The feast is accompanied by singers,
harpist, violinist, and drum.
The steaming soup is ground up parsnips and turnips and surprisingly delicious and nutritious, served in a wooden bowl. We slurp it down without spoons. I have to have seconds. The Ladies of the Castle “remove” each course as it is consumed, a term used in the ancient days. After the feast, you “remove” yourself from the table.
During the feast the merriment never stops. The wonderful singing continues with ancient ballads and a special composition of “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” that brings the emotions of many guests to the forefront. A wench near me begins to weep. No time for mercy. More meat and more mead! I dip my fingers in the finger bowl and spear a hunk of ribs before the skulking knave next to me gets the chance to purloin my reward, the droll lout! The bones from the meal are placed in a wooden bowl passed around, collected for the wretches in the dungeon.
Watch thy dalliances with the Ladies, or end
up in the Bunratty Dungeon.
A scoundrel is pulled from the audience for trifling with the affections of the Ladies of the Castle and all the peasants agree to have him thrown into the dungeon. The Earl, a superb singer and host in his own right, then leads the ladies into more song, followed by solos by the Castle harpist and Castle violinist. Finally the wretch is pulled from the dungeon and is allowed to continue his banquet, the letch!
Then the Earl of Thomond passes around the treasure brought back from the New World by Sir Walter Raleigh . . . SNUFF, and it is passed through the mob for a quick pinch.
This is my kind of lifestyle — More Wenches! More Wine! More Mead! More Merriment! This calls for a . . . belch and belly laughs, as the peasant next to me scratches his unwashed head of tangling locks, the cur.
After the banquet is over we descend to the basement where traditional coffee, without the whiskey, is served on a plank of ancient wood. Then my wenches depart me over a trifle — leering glances at the Ladies of the Castle . . . such are the moods of wenches, so I stroll through the grounds to the 15th century Durty Nelly’s pub across the street in the hopes of finding new bawdy wenches. For hundreds of years, the locals have frequented the pub, and hopefully the Ladies of the Castle may make a showing.
The modernized pub serves the best of Irish whiskeys, Guinness, and other locally brewed beers, and offers fine dining, but nothing like the banquet I have just gorged upon. Recently all Irish pubs banned smoking, to my relief, and the police are cracking down on drunken drivers, so even though Durty Nelly’s has a gaiety to it, it is not a boisterous bacchanal as it probably has been in the past. But a rollicking piano player pounds out the tunes and the knaves, I mean customers, are singing all around as I skulk off to look for wenches near the peat fire burning in the next room.
Click photo to stay in Noel and Fiona’s
Bunratty Manor near the Bunratty Castle.
No wenches turn up so it is a two block walk in the medieval mist back to my modern day manor, aptly named Bunratty Manor, run by two happy-go-lucky innkeepers, Noel and Fiona. Everytime I talk to Fiona, a curl of a leprechaun smile informs me she is suppressing a joke. Noel is still up so we crack open a bottle of Jameson to start the yarns flowing. Noel has been a restauranteur for a number of years, and now his beautiful inn has a main dining room — with complete sets of utensils — that serves fresh local produce, and my favorite entrée, Atlantic Salmon; the morning breakfast nook is airy and bright with sunbeams bounding off the polished hardwood floors. I don’t have to fight the medieval mobs for the morning elixir, Noel’s strong coffee. My two morning tarts — Carol and Mary — snub me, hah, I will find new wenches soon. Even though we were up late, Noel is up early serving a hearty breakfast, and the good cheer starts all over again. God I love the Irish!
BUNRATTY FOLK PARK
The Folk Park reenacts yesteryear.
The Bunratty Folk Park represents every area of North Munster. Apart from the Shannon Farmhouse, all other exhibits are exact replicas that existed in the region during the 19thcentury, and they are furnished and decorated in the style of that time. The houses tell a great deal about the Irish rural lifestyle. The Mountain Farmhouse is a replica of a smaller house in the upland region. The more wealthy farmers lived in long, thatched houses, such as the Golden Vale House, which has a spacious kitchen and parlor. It has exactly planted gardens that can be compared with farmer’s houses in Western Europe. The Folk Park is not a museum with lifeless exhibits in glass cases, but the traditional skills of the period are put to use every day in the settings in which they were nurtured. See butter made in a “dash” churn, and soda bread making in a pot oven over an open fire.
Traditional nutrition is baked daily.
The Talbot Collection
Before the “Great Shame” or “Great Famine” in Ireland from 1845-1847 most farmers tilled the land and relied on growing crops. Tillage crops were varied: oats, barley, turnips, potatoes, and many others, as were the mechanisms need to cultivate them. It was indeed a hard time. You can see the farm equipment that they used to plough, sow, fertilize, spray, and harvest, mainly with horses, all on display in the Talbot Collection. This is a fine collection of farming equipment presented to the Folk Park in 1976 by Reverend M.J. Talbot in memory of his wife Elizabeth. There is also an audio visual show on how the equipment was used.
Bunratty Village is a working town.
The Village Streetrecreates 19th century Irish life, with reconstructions of a post office, pawn broker office, schoolhouse, craft shops, doctor’s surgery, draper’s shop, and the village pub — MacNamara’s, or Mac’s Pub, an exact copy of the original in Kearney’s Hotel in Ennis. After touring the grounds, I too join the crowd in Mac’s Pub for an Irish Coffee, soda bread, warm soup, and good cheer. It is autumn so the peat fire is bad to the bone. Much of the furnishings and fittings are from the original hotel, and the fully licensed Old World bar is congenial, with relaxing drinks served with a light bar menu.
Other Folk Park Attractions
The themed children’s playground is a new addition to the Park, based on a miniature castle theme, including a playhouse, slides, swings, ramparts, and a maze. Another new addition is Hazelbrook House. Built in 1898, it was the home of the Hughes Brothers who started a dairy industry in the 1800s and later produced HB ice cream, which became, and still is, a household name in Ireland. Learn about the evolution of ice cream making from the domestic dairy to the modern plant. The house also features the history of the Hughes Brothers family.
Bunratty House is more modern than the castle.
Bunratty House was never intended as a permanent home. It was built in 1804 as a temporary residence of the family who lived in Bunratty Castle. But the family found the “modern” home so much more convenient that they never moved back to the Castle. Inside, the house is decorated with Victorian-style cushions, antimacassars, frills and lace, and shining mahogany. The drawing room is set for afternoon tea. The docent of the house is having tes when I visit and we chat briefly about the life and times of Bunratty. Upstairs the beds have fine crochet covers; the nursery displays well-used toys.
One feature popular in the spring and summer at the Folk Park is theWalled Garden, modeled on the original Regency period garden, which supplied Bunratty Village with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The both (gardener’s shed) and garden furniture are typical of the period. The garden is in the heart of the Folk Park.
Church still holds services.
Other homes and buildings include: The Loop House, Blacksmiths House, Cashen Fisherman’s House, Weaver’s Shed, Shannon Farmhouse, Bothan Scoir, The Tea Room, Schoolhouse, Traveler Wagons, Northcare Farmhouse, and the wonderful stone ArdcronneyChurch, where services are still held in a small nave.
From the house on the hill from where the Studdarts surveyed the village below, many changes, some gradual, some drastic, brewed in the fortunes of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. There was an upsurge of an Irish merchant middle class. These people needed schools and shops, and of course pubs, in which to meet and socialize. MacNamara, the publican, was, and still is, an important man in the village — after all, it was his ancestors who built the great Castle.
Every week the people from the surrounding countryside arrive into the village for a fair day and you can converse with local farmers, who’s humor and personalities haven’t changed over the centuries. I stop in the Park’s fabric and craft shop and purchase a tea linen embossed with all the Irelandcastles. Or stop off at the Blarney Woolen Mills next to Durty Nelly’s for a keepsake for your favorite wench (Tel: 353 (0) 61 364321).
Shannon area Medieval craic (fun in Celt):
Knappogue Castle Banquet
Quin, County Clare
Ph: 061 360788
Knappogue Castle was built in 1467 by Sean MacNamara, son of Sioda, who built Bunratty. Sean, Lord of Clancullen, had a reputation for lavish parties and truly royal entertainment, surpassing that of his father. In 1571 the Castle became the home of the MacNamara Clan. Donagh MacNamara was a leader of the 1641 rebellion and the Castle was occupied by the Cromwellian forces. Arthur Smith was then granted the Castle, but it was later returned to the MacNamaras. The clan sold the Castle to the Scott family in 1800. The Scotts carried out an extensive restoration before it was acquired in 1855 by Lord Dunboyne. Happily the Dunboynes were related by marriage to the O’Briens, Kings of Thomond, and the MacNamaras. Earl of Clancullen, Lord Dunboyne, made many additions to the Castle, including the courtyard, clock tower, and walled garden.
The medieval banquet is held twice nightly at Knappogue and it is a fresh experience each night. While maintaining the medieval atmosphere, the entertainment takes you through the story of the women of Ireland — the Celtic Pirate Queen, inspiring saints, and down right sinners, all formidable women, who all helped shape Celtic past. The colorful and theatrical pageant delights peasants and serfs with good food and wine, as the Earl’s Butler ensures that everything proceeds in time honored tradition. The banquets are held twice nightly, subject to demand, at 17:30 and 20:45; May to October.
Dunguaire Castle Banquet
Ph: 061 360788
Dunguaire Castle sits on the shores of Galway Bay, famed in song and story. The Castle is 500 years old and over time has had a chequered history.
Dunguaire Castle was built by the Hynes Clan in 1520. The association with the site goes back to 662 AD, when Guaire, King of Connaught, who was an ancestor of the 15th century Clan, ruled the kingdom from an earthwork Rath close to the site of the present Castle. In the 17th century the Castle passed to Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway. Then it was purchased by Oliver St. John Gogarty and became the venue for literary revivalists, such as W.B. Yeats, his patron Lady Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Edwart Martin, and J.M Synge. Yeats, in particular, believed in the Celtic bardic traditions and set about reviving the ancient oral customs, incorporating them into his plays and poetry. The Castle was acquired in 1954 by Christobel Lady Ampthill, who completed the restoration work. Now the Castle is owned by Shannon Development, a quasi government unit.
This then is the theme for the Castle entertainment, with myth and legends of a time past. While you enjoy fine food and wine, the Castle entertainers inspire you with profound humor, spouting words of these literary giants. An evening of superb music, song, and storytelling awaits you on the majestic shores of Galway Bay. Banquets are held twice nightly, subject to demand, at 16:30 and 20:45; May to September.
Castle Lane Tavern
Castle Lane Tavern is the venue for Ireland’s most exciting contemporary dinner entertainment. It is located in the magnificent Officer’s Club on the upper level of the pub near King John’s Castle in Limerick. The evening showcases all that is new and exhilarating in modern Irish music and dance. Enjoy a sumptuous four course meal and great atmosphere followed by a 45 minute extravaganza of sound, color, and movement. The rhythm of the dancers is the heartbeat of an ancient people given new life by the vibrancy of youth. Bodhran, pipes, keyboard, flute, and guitar create the sounds of modern Ireland. Entertainment takes place from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Silver Line Cruisers
Silver Line Cruisers has a choice of modern top class cruisers for a river Shannon Irish cruise holiday. Rent a boat and cruise theIreland heartland. Silver Line Cruisers, one of Ireland longest established family run Shannon cruising companies, is situated right in the heart of Ireland on the river Shannon between the two great lakes, Lough Ree and Lough Derg, and only one mile from the Grand Canal. Their base at Banagher, County Offaly, is the ideal starting point to rent a boat for anyShannon cruise. Be captain for a week or so, and really see the Shannon area.
For more information about Ireland log on to www.tourismireland.com or call 800/223-6470.
Shannon, Ireland — Irish coffee, invented in 1943, is still tasting great. An internationally acclaimed beverage, Irish Coffee first saw the light of day when Shannon – based chef Joe Sheridan blended coffee, cream, and Irish whiskey.
Flying boats from the United States were using the wide waterway of the Shannon Estuary to land at Foynes, County Limerick, where today theGPA Foynes Flying Boat Museumrecalls that era with the aid of old radio equipment, video, and visuals. In the 1940s, as cold and weary passengers arrived at the airport, Joe felt they needed a welcoming warm drink. It had to be Irish in character and appeal to travelers.
After many experiments over a number of years, Joe finally came up with the delightful drink now known as Irish Coffee. In 1947 ShannonInternational Airport was officially opened and Irish Coffee became the official welcoming beverage. (A cup of Joe?)
Irish Coffee was set to take off as the first planes landed at Shannon. The airport became a stepping stone between Europe and North America. Movie stars, presidents, dictators (Castro), and royalty all passed through Shannon and sampled Joe Sheridan’s Irish Coffee. Early enthusiasts included Irish film star Maureen O’Hara and international stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Today both Shannon Airport and Irish Coffee are firmly established on the world aviation scene.
In the early 1950s, American journalist Stan Delaplane of the San Francisco Chronicle had an Irish Coffee at Shannon. Captivated by the unique taste of the brew, he took the recipe back to the Buena Vista Bar on Fisherman’s Wharf. Thus began the Irish Coffee story in America. Within a short time Irish Coffee caught on in San Francisco. Irish whiskey sales boomed. At one time more Irish whiskey was consumed in San Francisco than in all of Ireland!
In later years Joe Sheridan was invited to work in the Buena Vistapreparing and promoting his Irish Coffee. He stayed in San Franciscoand died there in 1964 and is buried overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
There is a special way to make Irish coffee; here is the original recipe:
Cream — rich as an Irish brogue.
Coffee — strong as a friendly hand.
Sugar — sweet as the tongue of a rogue
Whiskey — smooth as the wit of the land.
Heat a steamed whiskey goblet; pour in one jigger of whiskey; add three cubes of sugar or brown sugar; fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of brim; stir to dissolve the sugar; top off with whipped cream slightly aerated so that it floats. Do not stir after adding the cream, as the true flavor is obtained by drinking the hot coffee and Irish whiskey through the cream.
Visit the Shannon area during the Irish Coffee Festival
Bunratty Castle Banquets
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
Ph: 353 61 360788
The medieval meal is twice nightly at 5:30 & 8:45 p.m
— By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.