The journey from Killarney to Limerick and Bunratty is attractive but not spectacular. The countryside is hilly and boggy at first before it flattens out as you approach the wooded and fertile Shannon valley. Leave Killarney by the N23, joining the N22 at Farranfore as far as Castleisland. From here to Limerick the road is the N21; from Limerick to Bunratty the N18.
The villages of Farranfore, Castleisland and Abbeyfeale are of no particular interest. At Abbeyfeale you leave Co. Kerry and enter Co. Limerick.
Newcastle West This small town sits attractively alongside a river and is dominated by a C12 castle with medieval connections to the Knights Templar, and then later the Earls of Desmond. Ballygowan mineral water comes from here.
Castle Matrix, Rathkeale Castle Matrix is where Sir Walter Raleigh met the poet Edmund Spenser in 1580, the start of a lifelong friendship. The landowner, Lord Southwell, was presented with potatoes by Raleigh and he became the first man to grow them in Ireland.
Adare This is a lovely place, often called "Ireland's prettiest village," where you should make a stop. It lies on the river Maigue. Depending on your schedule, it may be an ideal place for lunch. Essentially it consists of one street with a row of beautiful C18 thatched cottages, now cafes, restaurants and antique shops; a medieval church; a large meadow-cum-park; at one end of the village a romantic ruined monastery and Norman castle, and at the other end (not visitable) Adare Manor, a glorious C19 mansion, now a fabulous luxury hotel complete with its own lake and magnificent golf course etc. You should park by the meadow opposite the church. The thatched cottages are worth a photo even if you don't wish to go inside the shops. There is a visitor centre next door to the church with loos, shops, a cafeteria and exhibition space about local history.
There are in fact Norman monasteries in Adare, a Franciscan friary, an Augustinian friary and a Trinitarian one (now the parish church in the village centre).
Limerick Third city of the Republic of Ireland, capital of Co. Limerick, on the river Shannon. This is the home town of the actor Richard Harris and of The Cranberries. It is by no means Ireland's loveliest town. Though it has a few streets of very attractive Georgian houses and a Gothic cathedral of note it is not pretty and has traditionally been a poor city. (The Pulitzer Prize winning autobiographical book Angela's Ashes by Frank MacCourt is set here.) Limerick has been accorded the cosy sobriquet of 'Stab City.' (You don't need to tell the group that.) This is the home of Irish rugby. Unless the group insists there is no point doing a fully-fledged guided tour. It is enough in Limerick simply to stop a while for a photo across the river from King John's Castle at the layby next to the Treaty Stone. The view back on to the castle is impressive, though the modern glass visitor centre has a slightly uncomfortable relationship with the medieval walls. This is the place to recount the history of the city.
Originally Limerick was a Viking settlement. They established a colony here in 922 after sailing up the Shannon estuary. The name of the town comes from the Old Norse for 'rich land.' The Vikings were defeated and kicked out of here in the early C11 by the rgeat hero and High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. In 1194 the Anglo-Normans captured Limerick. Quickly they established themselves in this area: families like the Fitzgeralds, Fitzgibbons, de Burgos and de Lacys. King John's Castle was built around this time, reaching completion in 1202. There are more Norman castles and other foundations (viz. Adare's three monasteries) in Co. Limerick than in any other Irish county.
The C16 and C17 were hard on Limerick. First it was devastated in the so-called Geraldine Wars between the lords of Munster and the Tudor kings. In 1651 came the curse of Cromwell and Limerick capitulated after a twelve month siege of the castle and the town walls. Then in 1691 came Limerick's role in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne.
This was the battle in 1690 outside Dublin that decided the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' in which the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic James II for the English throne. Supporters of the Jacobite cause led by Patrick Sarsfield continued the war in the west of Ireland, inflicting damage on the Protestant forces in subsequent engagements. Finally Sarsfield sued for peace and he and his opponents came to a treaty in which the Catholic Irish were given immunity from prosecution and persecution. The treaty was signed in 1691 on the stone where you are standing opposite the castle. Almost as soon as it was signed, however, the treaty was broken. The Irish catholics were persecuted and many were killed. Soldiers under Sarsfield's command fled Ireland to serve as mercenaries in foreign armies. It was known as the flight of the Wild Geese. Limerick became known as the City of the Violated Treaty.
Incidentally, the limerick was invented in a village outside here but this is the ideal place to tell a couple, not too risqué, e.g.,
There was a young monk from Siberia
Whose morals were rather inferior.
He done to a nun
What he shouldn't have done,
And now she's a mother superior.
The river Shannon is definitely worth a mention. This is Ireland's (and the British Isles') longest river. According to Celtic mythology it is the personification of Sionna, a heroine who ate from the Salmon of Knowledge and, as punishment, was transformed into a river. The Salmon of Knowledge dwells in central Ireland. Its secrets and omniscient nature are not for the delectation of womankind. The only person ever to have eaten from the Salmon of Knowledge and gained from the meal was Cuchulain, greatest of all the heroes of Ireland.
Once you cross the river Shannon you leave Co. Limerick and enter Co. Clare. The name that you will come across here again and again is that of the O'Brien family, the leading family in the history of Clare.
Bunratty Bunratty is just north of Limerick on the other side of the Shannon. It lies on the little river Ratty, a tributary of the Shannon. Its centrepiece is the magnificent Irish keep castle. This is entered through the Folk Park, a beautifully reconstructed evocation of small town life in Ireland at the turn of the century. Outside the folk park on the main road is Durty Nelly's, a well-known, popular pub. Next door to it is an outlet of Avoca Handweavers (commission) with excellent quality knitwear.
Park in the large parking area outside the Folk Park entrance. You can pick up excellent leaflets with your tickets as you go in. These depict the layout of the village and its points of interest as well as being a mini-guide to the castle. There is also a good shop by the ticket office (no commissions). All the houses and buildings in the park are visitable. There is a pub and a tea shop and a couple of craft shops among the attractions. Turning left through the village you come to the castle, across the remains of the moat which formerly surrounded it, past the outer wall, into the small courtyard and then steps up to the drawbridge.
There is normally somebody on hand to give you a brief guided introduction. You might want to check this when you buy the tickets. They will take you through the main rooms and give you a short history and explanations of some of the furniture. If you continue up to the battlements you will be rewarded with extensive views over the Shannon valley on a clear day.
The original large medieval town of Bunratty, entirely destroyed in a succession of local wars, lies buried underneath the folk village and the surrounding motorway and fields. The only remainder is the castle. The first castle on this site built by the MacNamaras and then taken over by their rival clan the O'Briens. Throughout its medieval history Bunratty was a source of friction between the native Irish clans and first Anglo-Norman, then Norman-Irish intruders. The castle was destroyed and rebuilt 8 or 9 times. It was an important O'Brien stronghold in the C16 and C17 when they became the Earls of Thomond. After Cromwell it fell into disrepair. The castle was restored in the 1960s by Lord Gort (famous as the man who led the evacuation from Dunkerque in WW II). It now contains a fine collection of C16 furniture.
Incidentally, many groups have heard of Durty Nelly's Pub. Its fame comes presumably from the fact that it is so near to Shannon Airport and therefore, for many people, their first taste of an Irish pub. It is not old, even though it looks it. In its present incarnation it dates from the 1950s. Previously it was a ramshackle, stinking little pub whose only attraction for the locals was its charismatic but filthy owner Nelly. When it was restored to coincide with the restoration of Bunratty Castle and to attract traffic from the airport the new owners named it 'Dirty Nelly's' in joking homage to their famous predecessor. She, now an old woman, was so offended by the name that she threatened to sue. In response the name was changed to the more loving and less offensive 'Durty Nelly's' and it has been that way ever since. The food is good but expensive here. It makes a nice stop for a quick cup of coffee.)
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