A place from my childhood, steeped in memories of bulls eyes, school tours and visiting American relatives, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of my favourite attractions in Ireland. I visited often as a child. Now, I visit with the next generation – my nieces.
At €16.55 for adults, it’s one of the priciest sites in the country, but worth it for a day’s adventure. Tickets for the park and banquets can be purchased online. Set on 26 acres, the park holds 30 buildings in a village and rural setting. It also has a 15th century castle restored in 1954. Scrambling up the narrow steps in the stairways, visitors can get great views of the rest of the park and surrounding countryside from the top. The charming 19th century village street has a school (always my favourite), post office, doctor’s clinic, pub and hardware store which visitors are free to snoop around in. There is a lot more besides. Costumed characters can be found in the schoolyard or in the farmer’s house making apple pie. Musicians dot the old thatched cottages, treating visitors to traditional Irish music.
We were greeted by pygmy goats at the entrance, munching on grass as tourists vied for a good spot to take a photo. Adults and children alike were enthralled by the family of chickens scratching around for food and the click click click of cameras could be heard from the Loop Head house, the first house you can peer into. This house is a reconstructed house of a fisherman/farmer from West Clare. Thatched and dark inside, it takes a moment for your eyes to get used to the small space. It is the smell of turf burning in the open fire that takes me back to childhood, not just visiting the park decades earlier, but being told to stack the turf after a delivery at home. How I hated the dust that got into my eyes and under my finger nails, but how I loved the fragrance and warmth turf gives off. It is rare to come across a turf burning fire nowadays and is one of the fondest memories I have of the park.
From the fisherman’s house, we ambled along into a blacksmith’s forge and more farmhouses of varying wealth. Each had its own character, demonstrating quite quickly where on the social ladder dwellers found themselves at. Some were abject, like the bothán scór and some declared their wealth at the doorstep, like the golden vale farmhouse, with a well kept garden and the smell of freshly made scones floating out the door.
You will spend most of your day outside, walking around the park, from the old cottages to the walled garden and the recently added fairy village. Having visited with two young children, it was the fairy village that was by far the winner. In a small woodland area of the park, fairy doors, a now popular item both in Ireland and abroad, were attached to a small area of trees. The village also contained a bug hotel, along with a fairy pirate’s residence, rope bridges to connect one tree to another, large mushroom tables and chairs and of course fairy lights. There was a church and two wagons for the fairies to sleep in. Ribbon of all colours decorated every tree, signifying wishes made by kids for the fairies to grant. Of course, as everyone knows, fairies are shy. So sadly we didn’t spot any. But I’m sure they only come out when the park is closed and it’s quiet in the village. With all the tourists buzzing around, they probably sit indoors waiting for the din to die down.
There was delight in the faces of the children, of all languages and nationalities, jostling to gape into doors to spot fairies. Perched on mushroom stools or inside the wicker deer tepee, even the adults got in on the fun. For someone who grew up on Enid Blyton stories, this enchanted and enchanting village made my day. Such a simple idea (the Park even runs workshops for children to decorate their own fairy door and take home), but an important one. In an age of tablets and smartphones, imagination is the only thing you need in this part of the park.
I spent about five hours walking around the park with young children who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. If you are visiting the Midwest region of Ireland, a visit to Bunratty is a must. It’s a fun day out/side and crammed with activities for all ages.