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Bunratty, County Clare.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is a trip back in time, to an Ireland that really doesn't exist anymore. It is a place to wander and marvel. I enjoyed visiting the authentic farm cottages from Loop Head, North Kerry, and County Mayo. From the smell of turf fires, to the thatched roofs, to the chickens roaming freely, the whole grounds gave me a feeling of how people used to live, and still live, in Ireland. If you don't get a chance to travel over the entire island, visit the folk park - located just ten minutes from the Shannon Airport -- and gain a sense of the country life. Experience the old way through all your senses.
I walk into the typical dwelling of a farmer-fisherman in the southwest coast of Co. Clare. A pyramidal, turf fire burns in the fireplace, warming up the place nicely. It is cozy and dark. The bedroom has a cradle, a single candle, and a crucifix. The sturdy, muddied boots set out to dry signify the life of hard labor. The kitchen is equipped with churns and grinders and pitchers, and there is a room for livestock next door. There is a sense of poverty and hard labor, but also of family and comfort, of the lives that existed in harmony with the natural cycles of life.
I tour the Bunratty House, with its pretty pink parlor, rocking chair, and trunks filled with petticoats. This was a home for the leisured class. The table is set for tea, and the piano awaits a trained hand. I notice a white, marble sculpture on the stairwell in the house. It is of a youth picking a thorn from his delicate bare foot. His quiet repose sticks in my mind.
Next to the house, I tour the Talbot Collection of 19th-century agriculture machinery. Farm work was exhausting and endless. The farmers' faces are tired and dirtied, staring back from old photographs on the walls. They are such a contrast to the statue of the youth. The machinery is a testimony to just how much technology has enabled production to grow to a mass scale. Advances have made farm work easier, but also threaten the old way of rural life.
Bunratty is famous for its nightly medieval banquets. They are held in the 15th century castle, built by the Earl of Thomond, who was famous for his hospitality. It is a four-course meal with loads of entertainment.
At the Castle, a woman wearing a 15th century-style dress greets me. The castle is fully restored and furnished with antiques and tapestries. Guided tours are available. At the very top of the castle, the wind blows through the turrets and the Irish flag flaps, high above the banks of the Shannon River. The castle wasn't designed to accommodate crowds - use your patience and manners in the narrow stairwells and passageways.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
Twice nightly at 17:30 and 20:45, year round. Reservations are necessary.
April to October at 19:00. Reservations are necessary.
Tel: +353 (0)61 360788
Written by Liz O' Malley - Summer of Travel 2007