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Out & About In Ireland: Playing castles in the park.

A CERTAIN type of the outlawed spirit poitin is to go on sale this year as the 300-year ban is finally lifted.

Now poitin lovers will be able to get a true feel for where the spirit came from at Mac's pub in a re-created 19th century Irish village.

But Mac's pub is only one of a number of attractions for the visitor to the Bunratty folk park and castle, in Co Clare. The 26 acre Folk Park is a living museum, a re-creation of Irish village life as it was at the turn of the 20th century.

Clothes hang in front of the fire, chickens wander in and out of kitchens and turf fires burn on the grate. Cows are milked, pigs fed, bread baked and butter churned.

The buildings appear just as they might have around 1900. They are furnished with authentic period furniture and filled with the typical clutter of ordinary life. Visitors can capture the simple existence of Irish life, from the farm labourer living in his mud-walled, one room cottage, to the privileged lifestyle of the local landowner in his Georgian manor.

Each building is a careful reconstruction of an original and is set in its natural environment.

There are eight farmhouses, a watermill, a blacksmith's forge and a village street. The street boasts a pub, a hotel, a post office, a school, a doctor's house and a pawn, hardware and draper's shops.

The visitor is free to wander in and out of these homes and work places, to imagine the farmer's wife entertaining the guests in the sophistication of the Golden Vale parlour, and contrast it with the relatively deprived life of the family in the Byre Dwelling who shared their living space with their cows.

In the folk barn, country style meals are served and entertainment provided -music, story-telling, Irish dancing and songs.

The folk park serves as a window through which one gets a glimpse of a way of life that will soon be forgotten.

Beside the park the wonderfully preserved Bunratty castle is the most complete and authentic medieval castle in Ireland. It houses the Lord Gort collection of the finest medieval furniture in Ireland as well as paintings and tapestries dating from before 1650.

The castle was built in 1425 by the MacNamaras but became the stronghold for the O'Briens after 1475. It was surrounded by a beautiful garden and was reputed to have a herd of 3,000 deer.

It fell into disrepair in the 1900s until it was bought in 1945 by Lord Gort. Restoration began in 1964 and it is now owned by the Irish government.

The building is simple; a rectangular three-storey keep with a turret at each corner and access over a drawbridge. At the entrance above your head is the `Murder hole' where boiling water or tar might have descended on your head.

One of the main attractions to the castle is a medieval banquet which is held twice nightly all year round.

Visitors can eat a four course meal of spare pork ribs and chicken with their hands and drink goblets of mead - a traditional honey wine. Bowls of soup are drunk straight from the bowl and only dessert can be eaten with a spoon.

The festivities are accompanied by musical entertainment from the well known Shannon Castle singers. The banquet lasts two-and-a-quarter hours and costs pounds 32 per person.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 1999
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