This time it’s all about the only day trip Falk has planned all by himself on the occasion of an anniversary. And so much in advance: he did a great job! Too bad that no further followed! 😉 This trip in mid-May last year first led us to the third largest lake in Ireland, Lough Derg. It borders the east of Clare, the northwest of Tipperary and the southern-most tip of County Galway, and is just over an hour’s drive from our home. The lake offers many recreational activities, especially in the summer, but also around it you will find some nice villages and sights. The day ended elsewhere with a journey into the Irish past, but more on this later!
Without knowing what would happen that day, we headed inland. The navigation system was programmed to “Mountshannon” and off we went. After just over an hour, we reached Falk’s first destination, which was already quite fascinating – the Aistear Labyrinth. I’m a big fan of labyrinths, I don’t know why, but my childish play instincts are likely to come to light in such situations. Unfortunately, the visitor center wasn’t open at this time and only half of the maze was accesable, but it was still nice. So we walked for a while through the labyrinth consisting of quaint old stone walls and much green. Sometimes we went up on a bridge, sometimes down into the bushes. Here and there we found tables with information about the spiritual Ireland from up to 9000 years ago. And not only that, we also discovered stones or high crosses with old runes and symbols on them.
Since the maze is located directly on the lake, a short detour to Lough Derg and the cute harbor of Mountshannon couldn’t be missed. We didn’t have time for a boat trip this time, though, because there was even more planned for today.
In the afternoon we enjoyed a piece of delicious cake and a cup of coffee in another small village near the lake, before we drove home again.
For the secret upcoming event, we actually had to groom ourselves a bit. The dress code according to Falk: old and chic. Because I had no idea what he meant with old, I just dressed chic.
When we arrived at the destination, I also realized what he meant with old. We were now at Bunratty Castle, an old Norman castle near the town of Shannon.
In the year 970 there was a trading post of the Vikings at the place where this castle was later built. Over the centuries, this place has been the site of many reconstructions, altercations and conquests, and has been in the hands of many different Norman and Irish ruling families until the mid-17th century. In 1690, almost 50 years after Oliver Cromwell’s campaign against Ireland, all Irish noblemen were expropriated and disempowered, leaving Bunratty Castle in the hands of the British government. For more than 100 years it was leased to Protestants from Great Britain (so-called plantation families), who were purposefully settled in Catholic Ireland on large estates. When they later moved to the more comfortable property Bunratty House, the castle remained uninhabited and decayed. In 1950 Lord Gort bought the castle and restored it with the support of the state in the original style. Since then Bunratty Castle has been open to the public, including us.
In addition to a visit to the castle and the historic Folkpark, you can also experience a medieval banquet here. And that’s exactly what Falk had in mind for us – yay! Both of us are very much interested in anything that has to do with the Middle Ages and have wanted to do something like that for a long time. 😀
We were received by authentically dressed court ladies and gentlemen with a cup of mead in the large throne room. We were greeted by old Irish harp and violin sounds there. After a short speech and a brief explanation of the history of the castle, we went to the huge dining room, where three rustic courses paired with musical accompaniment waited for us. Tucked closely together, we sat at long wooden tables, that were covered with ancient pottery, jugs and only with a knife instead of the other cutlery. For starters there was a simple potato soup, as a main course meat with potatoes and for dessert some kind of panna cotta. The entertainment program was much better than the food, though! The court ladies and gentlemen were waiters, actors and extremely talented singers and musicians in one. In addition to medieval Irish songs, e.g. about seagrass, popular folk tunes that the Irish guests knew were also sung and many of them joined in. The mood was great, people started to talk with their seating neighbors thanks to the mead or wine. The Americans next to us were enthusiastic about the Irish and European history and had never seen a castle from the inside before. After all, America is a relatively young country, where there are no old castles, churches or forts. Hard to imagine, as all Europe, especially Ireland, is teeming with them!
After this successful evening, we went back to the car fascinated by the time travel to the Irish Middle Ages, passing cute donkeys and goats.
We can warmly recommend to participate in such a medieval banquet in an Irish castle, despite the relatively high costs and crowds. Such events are offered in many places and should not be missed on your next trip to Ireland! 🙂