Bunratty Folk Park

My sister and I took a ramble down memory lane yesterday in Bunratty Folk Park, Co. Clare. The ghosts of our parents and grandparents accompanied us. Along with the contents of twenty tourist buses.

As the tourists spilled merrily out along the meandering paths and cottages, we suspected both The Quiet Man and homesick forebears informed a more romantic view of their Ireland.

Thatching the fisherman's cottage

Smoke rises from the chimney, as the thatcher tends to his labours. The woman of the house is at home and has soda bread baking in the baker on the hearth.Oh to own a little houseMy father often spoke of the baker. It’s the little black pot to the front of the hearth in this picture. You may even make out the embers on top of the lid and surrounding the pot. The woman of the house informed us that it takes about an hour and a half to bake the soda bread in this way,

Our grandmothers both had very large families and farmwork to attend to. So, when we followed the woman out of the house on into the dairy it was another vaguely familiar scene from out childhood. One of our grandmother’s had a dairy too, and both grandmothers made their own butter.

In the dairy dairy

They also made the clothes for their families. The Singer sewing machine was a standard piece of furniture from my father’s childhood.

Sewing machine

As indeed, were pictures, and occasionally statues, of the Sacred Heart.

The amount of religious iconography as displayed in all of the Irish Catholic homes in Bunratty is just astonishing. But my sister and I agree that it was very typical  right up until the 1980s in very many Irish homes.

Bedroom Bedroom 2


And, while bedrooms might look like cosy features in this little houses, they were frequently damp, always overcrowded. Our mother often recalled sleeping head to tail with her four sisters in one bed.

Mind you, all five sisters were great talkers too, so I can’t see how they ever managed to get much sleep.

There is a carefully reconstructed village in the Folk Park. Complete with drapery and hardware shops…


Village stores

…a doctor’s house…

..Doctors house


..a pub…MacNamaras

..the home of the Hughes’ brothers who founded the HB ice-cream company…

Hughes Brothers House

…and the ubiquitous black Nelly which everyone aspired to owning in the 1930s Ireland.


I’ve had my own adventures on one of those bikes.

And more somber times seated at school desks similar to this one. In our day, a little white ceramic inkwell sat inside the brass holder, while our nibs rested in the wooden groove across the top of the desk.Desk

And the fact that we can recall that, made my sister and I feel very old indeed.

Oh, it is wonderful to rove around Memory Lane. The tourists we met had a delighted curiosity about it all, but we were close enough to it to know that they were tough times for very many people and the Ireland of today is a kinder place.

Though some would disagree…

“Ah, haven’t we lost a lot in this little country of ours.  We had nothing long ago but at least we were happy. We’ve none of that now, and no sense of community any more.”

The man was in his fifties and seemed was evidently  unsettled by his perambulations through the past.  Sister and glanced at each other and shook our heads. Maybe men had an easier time back then, though it’s difficult to be sure from our perspective.

The Folk Park had given us a chance to piece together a little but more of our grandmother’s daily lives.  We both agreed that it was a constant struggle for women in Ireland of yore. It’s easy to forget that amid the peaceful pastoral scenes of Bunratty Folk Park.

We so, we tumbled out of the Folk Park, thrilled with our journey, grateful to our forebears, and relieved to be living in 21st century Ireland.


21 thoughts on “Bunratty Folk Park

  1. I read somewhere (Pete McCarthy?) that a strange thing happens at night; the locals go and drink in the fake pub in the Folk Park whereas the tourists prefer Durty Nelly’s, the real pub. True or not I’m not sure. And yes, I’m sure the old man shared the faux romantic vision of the past. I’m not sure that things were as happy as made out, especially for the women.

  2. Delighted you came to visit us here in the Mid-West. I love the Folk Park and its a ‘must see’ for any of my visitors as it is so near. I love the thatched houses as I was often in real ones in my childhood. I love looking back, and better still, as in the Folk Park, being able to go back for a couple of hours. How I detested homemade butter – so strong…but othewrise these dark and as you say,often damp and cold houses conjure up for me, warm feelings for the relatives and friends who I knew, who lived their lives in houses like this. Thanks for the great post!

    • Well, you’ve just proved that home is where the heart is. Yes, hearth helps too but you’re describing love in your recollection of your relatives and friends. I didn’t realise you were in the mid-west. I’d always pitched you up in Donegal.
      Yes, they’ve done a superb job in the Folk Park. I’ll be back!

  3. Pingback: The Regency Garden, Bunratty Folk Park | redhenrun

  4. I love the Sacred Heart statue by the sewing machine. Reminds me of my mother’s Polish relatives’ homes–so much Catholic iconography. Maybe it made the scads of children in the household think they were being watched, thus prompting (somewhat) good behavior?

    • Very interesting about your own ancestry, Paige. Such variety for your children too! Yes, I am familiar with those all-seeing eyes from my childhood. Can’t say it scared me enough into behaving though!

  5. Lovely photos. It’s funny how we all whitewash the past, isn’t it? I was speaking with a museum guest the other day who absolutely insisted that everyone in the States was happiest in the 1950s. It was just the happiest, happiest decade for the whole country. I had to suppress the urge to comment on how happy African Americans thought that decade was, say.

    • Yes, I am curious as to why similar circumstances are seen so differently through the lens of memory. Maybe some people dislike their present so much, the past seems infinitely preferable. Or maybe the past just was better for some folk. Gotta love history though, for helping us understand where we are right now and how we got here.

    • Thank you. I am sure you have just as nice pics of Norway right now but for some mysterious reason you and others on my blog roll have disappeared off my wordpress reader. Very annoying, WordPress!

  6. Wonderful post Red Hen. It’s good to be reminded of the toughness of days gone by and then to be grateful for the modern conveniences I often take for granted now. Life in country Australia from this era reflects the images and descriptions you write about. Good reading as always.

    • Thank you, Annie! I think Australia speaks of even greater hardship and pioneering spirit. I sometimes wonder if the suffering of our ancestors somehow filters through in us even today despite the relative ease of our lives.

      • There would definitely be parallels between Ireland and Australia of this era. I think it’s important to remember what’s gone on before us. We have working villages and Colonial houses set up to show what life was like in days gone by too. It’s important to remember where we have come from. I really enjoyed your post. I’d never wanted to go to Ireland or anywhere in Britain but since reading your Blog I think one day I would like to 🙂

      • This isn’t such a bad little country, Annie, though I can’t compare it with Australia, Tasmania or New Zealand, since I’ve never been. But I will some day!

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