We spent a lovely morning visiting our only Irish castle - Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The site on which the castle stands was a Viking trading camp in 970. The present structure built around 1425 was the last of four previous castles on this site. The castle fell into disrepair when the last family to reside in it left for a more comfortable home within the castle grounds.
In 1954 the castle was purchased by Viscount Lord Gort who conducted extensive restoration work, including reroofing, to save the castle from ruin. He then refurbished the castle with exceptional 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art which bring to life the time when the castle was the home of the Irish chieftains.
This extensive collection, sourced mainly from Europe, makes Bunratty the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland. The time and effort involved in sourcing and acquiring these items was a labour of love for Lord Gort who carried most of the costs himself. He wanted to create something of lasting value.
The Main Guard Hall
The Great Hall
The Public Chapel
Looking out from the turretts
The Earl's Bedroom
The Earl's private apartment. 16thC sources maintain that parts of the table were remnants from a Spanish Armada which sank off the west coast of Clare in 1588.
The Earl's Private Chapel
I was very disappointed that we weren't able to attend the Medieval Banquet held each night in the Main Guard Hall complete with four course feast and entertainment. They would have to serve vegetables at a banquet surely!!! I think it would be a hoot.
We also enjoyed wandering through the castle grounds, now established as a Folk Park, where 19th century life is vividly recreated with over 30 buildings in a ‘living’ village and rural setting. The buildings are furnished as they would have appeared at that time, and provide excellent examples of the conditions of the classes, from the poorest one roomed, very basic, dwelling to the Georgian residence, Bunratty House, home of the Studdart family who moved from the castle in 1804. It was fun to wander through the farmhouses, school, village shops and streets with various characters attending to chores dressed in the attire of the time, and enjoy a lovely lunch at the pub.
The Village Street, Bunratty Folk Park
The teacher in the school house
P MacNamara & Sons Bar/Hotel
Chas playing with his conkers
Lord Gort and his wife gave a most valuable gift when they donated the castle, along with its contents, to the Irish people It was opened to the public in 1960 as a National Monument. We were extremely impressed with our visit and stayed much longer than intended. It was a pleasure to visit.
The colours of autumn
Over 84% of the Republic of Ireland population identify as Roman Catholic and it was interesting to see many lovely little grottos to Our Lady in various locations as we traveled. Here are a couple of examples. The first was in Bunratty Folk Park, and the second was a 'not so little' one at Corrofin which was erected by the people of the village in February 1958.
Grotto of Our Lady
Grotto to Our Lady, Corofin
We couldn't leave Ireland without a trip to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland's most visited natural attraction. Standing over 200m above the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, they stretch for 8km with great views to Aran Islands and Galway Bay. The cliffs have formed as a result of coastal erosion when the waves wear away the base of the cliff until a section collapses into the sea. This process continues and no doubt at some future time the cave that you see will be no more. The layering in the cliffs was formed over 320 million years ago when the compacted silt and mud that we see was once an ancient seafloor.
The cliffs are a special protection area for birds. Over 20,000 breeding seabirds nest on the cliffs, but again, unfortunately, I missed the puffins as they had already left. Stunning cliffs, and a magnificent view.
Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher
We'd only travelled a little way further along the coast road when we were confronted with the most amazing landscape. The first and second pics join together for a panoramic view on the right side of the road, and to the coast on the left.
Anyone for a walk? (left side)
Anyone for a walk? (right side)
.... or a swim?
This was the start of The Burren (meaning 'great rock'). This is a karst-landscape region, a geological formation shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock. The rolling hills of The Burren are composed of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as 'grikes', leaving isolated rocks called 'clints'. The formation that we see today dates from the last glacial period approximately 10,000 years ago. It is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe. Surprisingly the area supports a wide range of plants and animals. I found it to be a breath-taking experience.
The Burren landscape
Grikes and clints run along the limestone pavement
Small hollows form on limestone surfaces as rainwater is slightly acidic and dissolves the limestone
The wild but beautiful Burren landscape
Our reason for travelling this way was to visit Poulnabrone Dolmen (also called a portal tomb, a type of single-chamber tomb). This amazing structure dates to probably between 4200 BC to 2900 BC ... way before the pyramids.
At the time the tomb was built this would have been a farming community which relied on hunting, fishing, crops and domesticated animals. The landscape would have looked much different also, with pine forests and open grasslands. The investment of labour and continued use over time suggests that these tombs served a powerful symbolic role in their communities.
Archaelogical excavations were carried out between 1986 and 1988 when the fractured eastern portal stone needed to be replaced (the original can be seen lying on the pavement next to the tomb). The excavations revealed that at least 33 individuals were buried in the chamber - infants, children and adults, both male and female. It is believed that the bodies were initially buried (or allowed to decompose) elsewhere before being transferred to the tomb. Radiocarbon dating shows this to be around 3000 BC. They also found personal possessions such as a polished stone axe, a decorated bone pendant, stone beads and quartz crystals, flint weapons and fragments of pottery. The excavation also identified the body of a newborn baby which was buried just outside the entrance to the tomb over one thousand years later.
Archaelogists believe that this was not just a burial place but was also a focus for other rituals and ceremonies. It still dominates the landscape and gives us an opportunity to imagine and contemplate the past. An amazing and wonderful place.
Our last stop was at the twin towns of Ballina/Killaloe, once the seat of Ireland's High Kings, on the very picturesque Lough Berg.
Unfortunately our time in Ireland finally came to an end, though we still had much to see. With hopes for 'another time' we sadly said goodbye. Back to Aarhus for the final leg of our amazing holiday.