Bunratty is great

Woke at 6. Woke at 8. went to breaky at 9. Scrambled eggs and bacon on toast. Very cheery, very tasty. Left around 9:30, dropping off first at Blarney Woollen Mill so Denise could experience the massive shopping experience that it is. She was impressed and she didn’t even get to go upstairs! Left with arm loads of gifts. Finally shopped out, we set off in the direction of Limerick.

Last night we decided we’d stop off and visit Lough Gur Stone Age Park so went a (bit) off road, passing through small Irish backwaters and down narrow lanes. Noted a lot of Norman influence along the way with towers and castles galore!

Driving along a rather mysterious and long stretch of highway with huge signs warning us that no lanes were marked when they actually WERE…and not recently either. Maybe someone forgot to bring the signs in about 10 years ago.

After only a few minor wrong turns, we drove into the Lough Gur carpark. What a fantastic place! On such a beautiful day the lake looked more than real; like someone had put up a massive great picture of someone’s idea of paradise.

Lough Gur

After a visit to the sub-sub-standard toilets, we strolled up to the information hut where, having paid, we sat through a video/slide show about the place. A brief stroll around the small reproduction museum entailed. I thought the shield was a little too impressive for something that had been in the ground a few thousand years until I read it was a reproduction! D’oh! And I’d like to be an archaeologist!

I then dragged Denise up a very steep path and through countless top-grabbing, spiky edged branches until we reached a dead end and had to retrace our steps – it was easily worth it for the fantastic view of the lake. Finally making it back to the car after a ten mile hike…oops, I mean kilometres. Funny how Ireland is all metric and a good job cars have both options on the speedo!

We then set off for the Great Stone Circle, remembering to drop in at Holy Cross for a pint of Guinness and a pot of tea at TD Reardon’s. Arriving at the stone circle, we were accosted by a farmer, who was charged with collecting €2 from us both and then giving us the spiel about summer solstice and the standing stone and the babies who lay about in the middle of the circle having only been born a fortnight ago.

Stone circle babies

Poor Denise, complete with blister, was then dragged around, this time, cattle fields, to look at, basically, rocks. The funny part was that the smaller circle was bisected by the old road, half having been removed but then put back when the new road was moved about 50 metres away. Well, funny in an ironic way. You see, these stone circles are thousands of years old but I have to wonder if the replacements where put in the original places and in the original configuration, otherwise we may as well have been looking at…well, rocks, really.

We then took off for the final run into Limerick. We stopped in a shopping centre car park on the outskirts when we realised that stupid Gary had left the name and address of the B&B back in Haslemere so I took a punt and rang the fax number. Mike answered and gave us some very simple directions – we were only a couple of miles away – and we soon rolled up to the Annville B&B.

After the lovely Blarney Vale, Annville was a big step back. Basically clean but a bit old and tired and our room was about the size of a cupboard. Actually my bed was right next to the floor to ceiling mirrored doors of the cupboard and I think it was bigger. The bathroom is long and narrow – sort of like a thin corridor really in that you can’t lift your arms unless you turn sideways – and has a power shower which redefines the word ‘power’ – ‘dribbly’ would be far better. Still, it’s a bed for the night so we unpacked, had a tea/coffee then set off for Bunratty Castle.

To get to Bunratty we had to drive through Limerick and, boy, did it live up to its reputation. I’d read that it is dirty, rough and unpleasant and they definitely got that right! Thank God we only had to drive through it. My apologies to anyone nice who lives in Limerick but it really is the pits.

We turned into Bunratty and parked a mile from the car park with an hour and half before closing time. It’s more than just a castle! A whole village has been recreated using buildings from elsewhere (how often are we going to see this? Australia, Norway, Sussex, etc) with the added attraction that most of them house working shops and businesses. There’s a lovely sweet shop, a post office and, of course, a pub!

After wandering round the village and admiring the views we made our way back to the castle to slowly mount the battlements. Standing high above the world we snapped some photos but were then rudely interrupted by the caretaker informing us that we’d been locked in! How come this keeps happening to Denise? It’s a wonder she will even go into a castle let alone climb to the top! Anyway, we followed him down the long, winding staircase until eventually breathing freedom once more.

View from the Bunratty battlements

I haven’t been able to find any information regarding the origins of the Bunratty Folk Park but there’s masses on the castle, including the very impressive guidebook which I recommend.

In around 960AD the area was in Viking hands. It was a good strategic position being at the mouth of the river Raite (thus the name) and near the Shannon estuary. It was so good, in fact, that when the Norman knight Robert de Muscegros arrived in the 13th century he secured a grant for it and set up markets and fairs which did extremely well. Sort of like the first Irish superstore set up outside Limerick.

From this a town grew and eventually a stone castle was built by Thomas de Clare. His ownership came to a permanent end in 1318 when he and his son Richard were killed at the Battle of Dysert O’Dea. Mrs de Clare then, presumably in a fit of peak, set fire to the castle and ran off to England.

For the next 200 years, Bunratty remained in Irish hands and it was in the middle of the 15th century that the present castle was erected. There is conjecture (isn’t there always?) whether the new building was constructed by the feuding O’Briens or the MacNamaras but it spent most of its early life in the hands of the O’Briens.

This remained the case right up until the early 1700s when they moved to the unlikely sounding Dromoland (no idea why they moved but have to assume they liked the name) and Bunratty was acquired by the Studdart family who lived there for about 100 years.

The Studdarts built Bunratty House which still stands in the Folk Park – we actually went in and wandered round. Interestingly, the house was built to give temporary accommodation while the castle was being renovated but the family liked it so much they decided to stay and, as a consequence, the castle started to decay. A defining moment came at the end of the 19th century when the roof of the great hall collapsed – villagers were talking of it for yonks, apparently.

Bunratty house

Finally, in 1945, the castle was bought by Lord Gort who restored and furnished it to that which we see today! He restored it to it’s 15th century best and my hat goes off to him, it’s fantastic.

The village didn’t close until 5:30 (the castle at 5) so we wandered back up to Mac’s Bar for a Guinness. It felt just like we were sitting in a little village street, enjoying our drinks in the sunshine and waiting for the postman. By 5:30, the postman hadn’t arrived so we left Bunratty. Unfortunately the gift shop had closed so we strolled back to the car, deciding to have an early tea at Durty Nelly’s, where the car was parked. Had a lovely fish & chip & Guinness dinner – delicious. The history of the pub is typically Irish and can be read on the website.

Before leaving for the B&B, we were unexpectedly entertained by a group of very drunk Irish women singing at the top of their lungs without the benefit of any singing talent or actually hitting correct notes. If we’d been deaf it would probably have been a bit of fun.

Back at the room we sat down to write up our respective days. The room we are in has an opening at the top of the door which manages to direct all the noise in the house straight to us so every movement, every word, every bodily function is amplified. Add to this the fact that the main bathroom is just a wall away and you can imagine the noise.

At about 7:30 I set off in search of a phone box from which to call Mirinda: it was about a mile and a half away! But the walk gave me a chance to realise the proliferation of girls in twos or alone, power walking (or so it seemed) in sweat pants on the streets of Limerick suburbia. They are everywhere, all shapes and ages which makes walking feel pretty safe but weird all the same.

Eventually I found a telephone (on a very busy road with no glass in it so had to talk with one finger firmly wedged in one ear) and talked to Mirinda until my money ran out then made the long trek back to the B&B. An odd sighting on the way back: a diminutive spiderman struggling to glide up the bank on the side of the road caught my eye. Have to assume some child is bemoaning the loss after chucking it out of his/her pram.

Back at the B&B Denise was well asleep. I watched Friends, Scrubs and The Inside of My Eyelids. Great news, Chelsea beat Man U 3-1 at Old Trafford! Well on the way to the championship cup.

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