In this brief article my aim is to introduce you to the
features of this Irish castle. Join me to find out about Bunratty Castle- its' unequalled splendour as well as its
defences, how religion was catered for by the medieval owners, the unique
kitchen facility, and I will talk also about a dark secret...
But first things first.
“I have no hesitation in asserting that Bunratty Castle
is the most beautiful spot I have ever seen. In Italy there is nothing like the
palace and grounds of Lord Thomond. Nothing like its ponds and parks and its
three thousand head of deer.”
Cardinal Rinnunccini, Papal Nuncio, in 1646
Bunratty Castle in County Clare is one of the most spacious castles
of Ireland, with an extremely large Great Hall and plenty of space to show off wealth.
The important medieval and early Renaissance furniture collection accumulated
by Lord and Lady Gort to furnish Bunratty Castle does indeed give a feel of
medieval splendour as you can see in the photos above and below. Most everybody back then lived in dire poverty in huts or
cabins without windows or doors, and when you imagine the ordinary person of
the time looking at Bunratty Castle, they would have been truly blown away.
Every medieval Irish castle was, first and foremost, built
as a fortress. Bunratty features all the
common medieval defensive features
of the tower house; a raised entrance
door to make attacks more difficult, a murdering
hole above the main door, loop
windows for optimal use of bow and arrow, battlements to aid the defence from roof level, see the battlements on the photo below. On top of that,
Bunratty Castle, which was only accessible via a narrow passage way through the
bog, and was surrounded by water from the river Raite, featured a draw bridge
which could cut off intruders before they came anywhere near.
Prisoners were kept in the obligatory 'oubliette' (medieval prison) which was located in the basement. The oubliette was hidden and locked behind three strong, guarded doors and its' ceiling was too low in it for prisoners to be able to stand up...
Typically in Irish medieval castles, the basement, which was
built as a strong stone vault, was used for storage, and sometimes to house animals,
for example in times of danger. Bunratty of course had an exceptionally large
basement, which was used to fulfil other, darker functions.
There was a heavily guarded prison, not tall enough for
prisoners to stand up in, but locked behind three doors. We are led to believe
that the treatment of medieval prisoners wasn’t exactly very kind.
As well as this prison however, the basement of Bunratty Castle
holds an unequalled nasty secret den, one that unwanted visitors could be dropped
into through a trap door in the floor above, to die being impaled on sharp spikes. What a lovely Irish welcome!
All the while the medieval powers that be at Bunratty
considered themselves deeply religious.
rather, I think, it was important for them to demonstrate to the world that the popular religion was on their
side and supported them in their position of being the local ruler. As simple as that.
The castle featured two chapels, one private and one public, see one of them on the photo above. A
priest was housed at the castle also, in luxurious accommodation that you can see below.
This was one of the few medieval Irish castles that had a
designated kitchen area, the Earls kitchen, see it on the photo below. Most cooking for large banquets
however was done outside, in large leather pouches or bags suspended over an
open fire. The fireplace in the kitchen was important for warming up those dishes
as they arrived inside, before serving them. It was probably also used to
prepare meals for a smaller number of people when the castle did not have visitors.
Note the tortoise shells on the photo below. They were a medieval status symbol, showing the world how far you had travelled and how much money you had to spend as they didn't come cheaply.
The reason the tortoise shells are keptin the kitchen?
Sometimes they were used as serving bowls at banquets at this Irish castle.
Read here about the fascinating bloody history of Bunratty Castle.
Find out tourist information about Bunratty Castle here including our review and special tips.
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