The site of Bunratty Castle has been in use for just over 1000 years. The castle stands at the end of the Ratty River which flows into the Shannon estuary just beside the castle. From the castle you can overlook the estuary and the nearby airport.
The castle that you can see today is the last of four structures that have been built here. Originally the site was a Viking trading camp in the late 10th Century. When the Normans invaded Ireland Robert De Muscegros built the first castle here in 1250. It was a wooden motte-and-bailey castle which was replaced by a stone castle by Thomas de Clare.
The de Clare's lost the castle during the Irish Bruce wars and the castle was razed and rebuilt twice in quick succession.
In 1425 the powerful MacConmara clan built the structure that we can see today. By 1475 the castle had become the property and stronghold of the O'Briens via marriage.
The O'Briens ruled North Munster and were granted the title 'Earls of Thomond' and the castle was built and decorated to impress – even today it still dominates the skyline as you drive into Clare. Originally it stood inside an extensive enclosure with numerous outbuildings, but today these have all but disappeared.
The castle is a massive rectangular tower design with four square corner towers. The entrance is on the northern wall and it leads straight into a vaulted great hall. On the second floor is another great hall where the Earl held court and dined with his guests. This hall was superbly decorated with fine plasterwork and this has now been restored. The top floor contained private quarters with the Earl's bedroom and a chapel.
The four corner towers contain the many bedrooms, bathrooms and reception rooms that the Earl's staff and attendants would require, as well as a chapel and numerous passages and stairways.
The O'Briens left in 1646 when the castle was besieged and taken by Confederate Ireland forces under Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry. The Confederate Ireland forces were forced out during the Cromwellian Wars and subsequently the castle and its lands were granted to various Plantation families.
The last of the Plantation families to reside here were the Studdarts. However, they left the castle in 1804 to move into Bunratty House and the castle was left to decay and fall into disrepair.
Standish Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort, bought the badly dilapidated castle in 1953. He set about restoring the castle to its former splendour. He put a roof on the castle and restored many of its features. He also refurbished the castle with a large personal antique collection.
Lord Gort subsequently donated the castle and its contents to the Irish people and the castle and the living museum surrounding it are run by Shannon Development.
Bunratty castle was first opened to the public in 1960 and today it is one of Ireland's most complete and authentically restored castles. The castle grounds contain Bunratty Folk Park – a 'living village' from the 19th Century. Visitors can also enjoy the castle's walled garden and visit Bunratty House.
The site is open all year round and visitors can also enjoy evening entertainment at the castle's frequent banquets and 'Traditional Irish Nights'.
Owner: Shannon Heritage
Tel: +353 (0)61 360788
Opening Times: Open Daily Weekdays 9am to 5.30pm / Weekends 9am to 6pm
Bunratty's tall keep
The entrance to the castle