While I'm waiting for the sun to make its appearance, I have some time to type up thoughts on my adventure from a few weekends back: I went with several friends to Bunratty Castle, and let me tell you something about Bunratty. It's a fabulous use of your time. If you enjoy noodling about in a 15th-century castle full of restored (and original to the era) furnishings, or if you like wandering about gardens and Irish cottages from the 19th century, or if you would like the opportunity to participate in a medieval banquet (which we sadly did not do), to put it simply, go.
My flatmate Alyson and I left in the early morning to meet up with some mutual friends, and from Eyre Square we took a bus to Bunratty. The bus ride was comfortable, though we were a little bemused by the way we hardly ever knew what town we were passing through; they were seldom announced. After about two hours, we were unceremoniously deposited about two minutes from Bunratty castle itself.
While it's true that Bunratty castle has some roped-off rooms, it's not one of those places that feels closed away from you. There are tiny winding staircases to climb, side rooms showcasing bedrooms and chapels and larders, and even a sharp descent down a narrow way to a dungeon of sorts off the main dining hall. In several places, holes in the walls peek down from a stair or sitting room to the main hall below, creating a real sense of how connected the entire castle must have been. My favorite room, however, is isolated at the very top, called the south solar. It looked to me to be a sort of study for the earl, and I was very surprised by its beauty. It's a little shocking to see servant's quarters with beds of straw contrasted against wood paneling and intricately-painted Tudor ceilings, such as the south solar has.
At lunch, we piled into a very homey nearby pub that has been around nearly as long as the castle, and then we braved the cold for another few hours to explore the surrounding 'village.' The houses in the village are relocated from various places, and they show how Irish farmers and fishers from different economic backgrounds and locales lived. There were animals, too – pigs in a 19th century-style pen, chickens running rampant, guinea fowl, little donkeys and large sheep, and a pair of lovely sedate Irish Wolfhounds who were thoroughly unimpressed by us. In the summer, apparently, there are people who act out various daily routines in the village, but it was mostly a ghost town for us, just a smattering of other tourists and ourselves on the slightly-sloshy gravel paths.
At around four in the afternoon, we got back on the bus and returned to Galway. I was tired from my little adventure, but like everyone else I was quite glad I'd gone. I even enjoyed the bus ride; there's something about the lull of waiting with other people until you get where you're going. It's an interesting opportunity to feel like a part of the daily routine and movement of the city, and just as much a good way to come to know Ireland as threading up narrow steps in a castle, hands against stones so many others have touched.