Early in the afternoon, as we neared Limerick, quite a few of us on the tour group spent a couple of hours visiting Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The castle was interesting. It was very different in size and shape to those we had seen in continental Europe, but also quite similar to a few others we had glimpsed from the bus on its travels in Ireland over the past few days. So it was good to have an opportunity to see what was inside.
The castle was completed in the year 1425, and during the 16th and 17th centuries it was the stronghold of the powerful O’Brien kings and earls of Thomond and North Munster. There are three levels, each of which consists of a single large room. We entered the first level via a drawbridge. On its walls were the antlers of the giant elk, which has been extinct for many years. These prehistoric antlers were excavated from the nearby peat bogs. The peat is devoid of oxygen, so the antlers have not decomposed, but rather been preserved. This first room was where the soldiers slept and ate and received their orders. Thirty-odd narrow steps up a spiral staircase brought us to the next level, where the king or earl would receive visitors and hold his meetings. Another twenty-something narrower spiralling steps brought us to the third level, the private quarters of the king or earl and his family. A small trapdoor in the floor immediately above the drawbridge allowed boiling water or oil to be poured through onto an enemy directly below. The towers of the castle, which we didn’t enter, stand six storeys high.
In the folk park we visited four authentic houses from the Victorian era. They ranged from a very poor family’s one room cottage, where the bedding was nothing more than a pile of hay, to a humble two-room fisherman’s cottage, to a middle-class family’s five room cottage to a well-to-do family’s home, cluttered with furniture and other desirable objects. Each had a thatched roof, although the type and standard of thatching varied with the family’s socio-economic status. These homes had been demolished, moved to this site, and then reassembled brick by brick to ensure their authenticity.
In another part of the park are other attractions, but we didn’t visit them, suspecting that they might be a little tacky, as you might expect to find at Sovereign Hill or similar back home in Australia. Instead, guess what? Marg found a wool shop. In this instance it was quite a classy, authentic one, as the wool was from a family knitting mill in Kerry and is the same type used in traditional Aran knitting. The Aran islands are not far away from here. We returned to our bus and continued on the last few kilometres to our hotel in Limerick.