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Posted by on Jul 14, 2010 in Castles, Families, Families, Food, Historic, Music, Reviews, Shannon | 16 comments

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.

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16 Comments

  1. Corey,

    I’ve attended this banquet many times with group tour I have led and agree with you on all counts. It is one of those “tourist traps” that is really worth a visit — ‘tourists” from all over Ireland attend and enjoy.

  2. yes, it may be a bit of a tourist trap, but I have visited the village several times and the banquet twice and I enjoyed it a good deal. You are right..the performers are very good.

  3. We had great fun at the ‘Ceilidh in the Corn Barn’ at Bunratty – less posh, more down to earth :)

  4. I had exactly the same reaction — I thought it would be silly but we both enjoyed it.

  5. We were there last Friday afternoon. Walking up and down those spiral stairs is dangerous! How could people live there?! Hahaha

  6. I agree with Christi about the Barn being more fun. Once was enough at the Castle

  7. Yes it is touristy but I would disagree with the negative connotation of “trap” because it is one of those places everyone should experience. The folk park and castle are great to see and the banquet is certainly an unforgettable experience. I thought I would never go back to Bunratty after our first trip to Ireland in ’97 because, although I enjoyed it I figuered “been there, done that”. I have been to the banquet now three times mainly to see the joy on the faces of family and friends most recently in June of 2009 with our children and grandchildren. It is definitely a must see/must do. Haven’t been to the “Traditional Night” in the Corn Barn but will do that on our next(9th) trip.

    • Hi! I see you brought your grandchildren to the Bunratty banquet. We are considering bring the family, including grandchildren aged 4, 7 & 8, do you think that they will fit in ?

      Best regards,

      Brendan

      • Brendan, Congratulations on your decision to bring your family to Ireland. My grandsons still remember their experience at Bunratty, the folk park and the banquet. They were ages 5, 7, and 9 at the time and enjoyed the pageantry, music and wonder of the entire evening.

  8. Great reveiw Corey. I’ve been to all the banquets and the corn barn several times over 37 years. They all have top-notch muscians and entertainers. I consider a “tourist trip” something that is not worth the money spent on it. The Shannon Heritage entertainments are certainly not tourist traps. They are an entertaining evening of food and fun. When I first started visiting the banquets you only got a knife to eat with. Nowadays you get utensils. ;-) I’m with you about the fleas and gruel.

    Michele

  9. 2008 was my third time partaking in the festivities at the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet, each time on a tour with Pat Preston of http://www.irelandexpert.com fame. There were several folks named Tom at my table, one of whom was part of a different group and was celebrating his birthday. As the evening’s “villain” was reveled, I took a drink of soup in relief as all his friends pointed to him when the name “Tom” was announced. Then, as it was clarified that the “Tom” in question was instead ME, the soup came spraying out of my mouth in laughter. Definitely a night to remember!!

  10. I chose Bunratty over the others to go to and enjoyed it so much, in fact one of the proformers was the daughter of a lady whose bed and breakfast we stayed at in Blarney and she called ahead to tell her we would be there so she looked for us and came and talked to us etc, friendly times etc. It was so long ago but I STILL remember the conversations I had with the people at our table and how now I want to rent a boat and stay on the Shannon like the couple from Israel did! :) Good times!

  11. what fun, corey!! i am laughing at this great, great post.

  12. Oh, how random! I was just perusing my blogroll and I came across a recommendation of this entry in a blog that I frequently read.

    I live in Adare, just outside Limerick city and one of my closest friends actually performs at the Bunratty banquets! You probably saw her singing. Thank you for such an honest review, I have to admit that even I was skeptical as to the authenticity of the banquet experience but I’ve heard that it’s not just for tourists! I’ve had recommendations from a lot of my Irish friends.
    After reading this, I’m definitely looking forward to giving it a go!

  13. thanks for the report, Corey. as much time as I’ve spent in Ireland, I’ve not been either, for the same reasons you had not. now I am thinking I should go, and arrange to interview some of the musicians as well..

  14. My wife and I are heading to Shannon early next month for a coach tour that starts with the medieval banquet at Bunratty. So of course I was interested in reading this account of the event, and happy to learn that it is an enjoyable experience. Thanks for the review.

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  1. Buhn Raithe: Bunratty Castle – Living History, With A Pint « Pagans, Saints, and Potatoes - [...] The Bunratty Castle and Folk Park also includes living history exhibits, which recreates village life, farm life, and costumes …

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