An Evening at the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet
The allure of a Medieval Banquet in a 15th Century Irish castle, like the one at Bunratty, has kept the County Clare landmark a preferred stop for travelers to Ireland since the early 1960s. With it being such a well-known experience, I had to ask myself why I hadn’t attended the medieval banquet in any of my previous visits.
My main excuse… a fear of tourist traps. I had done medieval banquets and renaissance faires in the US, and although I enjoyed them, I just couldn’t imagine the unauthentic formula working in Ireland. Add the fact that I rarely budget €50 per person for dinner, and I just couldn’t find the motivation.
Music Fills the Banquet Hall
This summer, Shannon Heritage invited me to attend the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet as their guest. I tried to keep an open mind, but I knew that one too many “Me, Lord” or “Me, Lady” salutations would have me swimming the moat and running for the car park.
Fortunately, there was just one “Me, Lord” as I passed the bagpipe player in the castle yard and entered the castle. After that, all the guests climbed the ancient, spiral staircase to the Upper Great Hall. There, the night veered away from tacky tourist shenanigans to a well-paced evening of entertainment.
In the Great Hall, a harpist and fiddler filled the room with soothing tunes as the guests drank Mead, an ancient honey-alcohol recipe, and enjoyed a “bite of friendship,” bread dipped in salt. The atmosphere for superb for mingling, and I was surprised at the number of Irish attending the event. It was in this pre-dinner rest when I chatted with Eamon from County Limerick who bought tickets on the insistence of his sister who hailed the “quality of the performers.”
Bunratty Medieval Banquet Performers Set the Bar High
Eamon’s sister was correct, the performers in this troop kept the show well above par. Each displayed strong voices, tight harmonies and stage presence that never apologized for their Lancelot and Guinevere costumes and the fact that they were also required to hop off the stage to serve the meal.
The menu abandoned the giant turkey leg and lack of silverware talked about in the guidebooks. Instead, the table was set with red and white wine, water and brown bread. The courses of spiced parsnip soup, spare ribs with whiskey sauce, breast of chicken with apple and mead sauce, vegetable and dessert were alternated with songs and stories.
The audience joined in the singing and an earl, lady and villain were chosen from the crowd. These audience members were invited to chew the scenery as much or as little as they felt comfortable. Missing from the banquet were the cheap laughs that made me roll my eyes at other medieval events — no toilet humor, no men dressing as women, no tossing of rotten produce and no clash of swords (although a small sword fight could have been exciting, even if out of place).
Food, Entertainment and a Discount Coupon for Ireland’s Medieval Banquet
Ultimately, I enjoyed a night of great entertainment. Factor in the hearty, tasty meal and the €50 price tag turns out to be a pretty good deal… especially with the 25% Off coupon available until the end of the 2010.
The night was unexpectedly grown-up; however, children would certainly enjoy the banquet as well. The set-up has a natural way of encouraging conversation (in fact, I exchanged email address with many of my table mates which were a mix of American and Irish patrons). I couldn’t ask for a better venue… I mean, it’s a 15th Century for cryin’ out loud!
Strict historians might cringe at the not-exact-to-the-period choice of song, menu and costume, but I couldn’t sit through a night of gruel, fleas and truly medieval tunes.
Reservations are required for the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet which is held twice nightly at 5.30pm and 8.45pm. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is a living history museum that is open daily for visitors.