Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare
Location: Bunratty is located about seven kilometers east of Shannon airport. Take the N 19 spur from the
airport to N 18 south. Follow the signs to Bunratty castle and Folk Park. There is ample parking throughout the area.
A fee is charged to tour the castle and adjoining Folk Park.
Dimensions: The castle is essentially a three story tower house. It is comprised of a tall, oblong building with a
square tower at each corner, linked on the north and south sides by a broad arch rising to below the top floor.
The entrance door leads into a large vaulted hall above which is the magnificent great hall with its lofty timbered
roof where the Earls of Thomond held court. This great Hall is an imposing 14.5 meters high, 14.5 meters long and 9
meters wide with a dais on the southern end. On this platform stands a magnificent 10-legged table measuring 6.7 meters
long and a second Chair of Estate. While there are only three stories in the main body of the castle -
with vaulted cellars below the hall - the towers have many floors and small chambers approached by a profusion of
spiral and mural stairway. Many of these rooms were
bedrooms with connecting latrines. The castle has an amazing fifteen privies. The fourth Earl remodeled the upper
rooms of the towers and they are quite modern in appearance. His vaulting still survives in one tower and is among
the earliest use of brick in the country.
Some of the Earl's plaster decorations remain in the hall, chapel and south solar and may be considered among the
oldest stucco known in Ireland.
Features: Bunratty was restored in the 1950s under the guidance of Percy le Clerc and is filled with
Lord Gort's magnificent collection of medieval furniture and tapestries. It is now one of Ireland's main tourist
Comments: The castle is self-toured with a brochure and contains some very interesting furnishings. It
has been restored to an amazing former glory. Well worth the price of admission, even as touristy as it may be.
The Folk Park has some marvelous examples of Irish country life in its reconstructed farmhouses brought from
various rural areas. They range from the very humblest cottage to a large farmhouse. A reconstructed village
street with various shops is here as well as a gift shop, several places to eat, a souvenir shop and public toilets.
Medieval banquets are held for tourists year round in the castle. The view of the Shannon and surrounding countryside
is spectacular from the roof.
History: The first dwellings to occupy the site in about 970 were part of a Viking trading camp.
The castle once stood on an island in a tidal creek with a view of the water traffic entering and leaving the port of
Limerick. This strategic site has had a succession of castles from 1251 onwards. The MacNamara or MacConmara family
built the present structure around 1425 but by 1475 through marriage it had became the stronghold of the O'Briens,
the largest ruling clan in North Munster. The castle was surrounded by beautiful gardens and it was said to have a
herd of 3,000 deer. The O'Brien's were granted the title Earls of Thomond by Henry VIII, professing loyalty to the
crown of England. The O'Brien rule was ended by Cromwellian troops and the castle and its grounds were surrendered.
The O'Briens later built a residence at Dromoland Castle which is now a 5 star luxury hotel.
Bunratty Castle and its lands were granted to various Plantation families, the last of whom was the Studdart family around
1720 and whom occupied a brick house built against the two northern towers.
They left the castle in 1804, having built themselves a fine country home (Bunratty House) in the park. The castle was
later used as a police barracks but subsequently fell into disrepair. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the
roof of the great hall was allowed to collapse.
Bunratty was purchased by Viscount Lord Gort. The extensive restoration work began in 1945 with the help of the
Office of Public Works, the Irish Tourist Board and Shannon Development. It was then opened to the public in 1960 as a
National Monument and is open to visitors year round. It is the most complete and authentically restored and furnished
castle in Ireland.
Other Items of Interest: The adjoining Folk Park has eight farmhouses, a village street with various shops
and crafts being demonstrated, and some buildings further on including a horizontal mill,
vertical mill and a blacksmith's forge. In addition, at the far end of the park is Bunratty House.