November 11- Minard Castle, Inch Beach, Slea Head Drive, & Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
Saturday morning, we had mine and Josh’s most favorite breakfast of the whole trip. After we got ready, we went downstairs to the dining room where we found juice, milk, and a few cereals laid out for us. Myra came in shortly after to take a coffee order and asked if we were ready for breakfast. Of course we were! It was so wonderful, you could hear the bacon and sausage sizzling in the pans and her putting breakfast together for us. When she brought our plates out, it was a lovely sight indeed! Our full Irish breakfast at Castlemaine included bacon, sausage, white and black pudding, roasted tomatoes, a fried egg, mushrooms, and soda bread or toast with marmalade and butter. Simply delicious!
Trying out the black pudding…it was actually quite tasty!
With full bellies and well wishes from Myra, we set off on our adventures for the day. One of my best friends has a friend who lives in Ireland and it was suggested we stop to see Inch Strand and Minard Castle. As those happened to be on the way to Slea Head, we did both. Inch Strand (aka beach) was very pretty, but also so windy and cold, so we weren’t able to enjoy it for very long. I would definitely like to visit again when it’s warmer.
Minard Castle was neat because it was right on a beach, but we weren’t able to get a great look at it because it was on private property. It was still so fun to me to just happen upon a castle in the middle of the nowhere.
On our way to Slea Head, we drove through Dingle which was a cute little fishing town. Dingle is also home to Fungie the dolphin and you can take boat tours to see him swimming nearby. We opted not to do this with it being November, but I think it would be great fun during warmer months.
Leaving Dingle started us on the Slea Head Drive which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. It was a gorgeous drive. With the more narrow roads, we opted to not drive all of the Slea Head Drive to save us some time. Instead of driving the entire circular route from Dingle and back, we stopped at Slea Head, drove up to Dunquin, then headed back to Dingle. Slea Head was wild and gorgeous. It was also pretty foggy, so we couldn’t see too much, but still amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the amazing views and it was so neat to have green farmland dotted with sheep and cattle on one side of the road and cliffs and an ocean view on the other.
One of my favorite road signs.
I think we saved about an hour and a half to two hours by not driving all of the Slea Head Drive, so we had time instead to drive the two and a half hours to visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. I had read about a medieval feast offered at Bunratty Castle, so as soon as we got there we had to ask if there were spaces still available for dinner that night. There were! We bought our tickets for the castle and folk park and for the medieval feast (the feast was really expensive, but really worth it). On our self-guided castle tour, we were able to see a dungeon (!), the captain’s quarters, the great hall, the earl’s kitchen and pantry, the robing room and priests room, as well as the private and guest quarters. Everything was furnished as if back in medieval times and it was really neat. We even got to go up on the roof of the castle!
After the castle, we went to the folk park to look around until dinner. The folk park included rural farmhouses, Bunratty House and its formal gardens, as well as an entire village street set up with shops. Several of the shops as well as the Bunratty House were closed which was really disappointing. I’m not sure if it was because of the miserable weather (drizzle and wind the whole time) or if it was just because it was a slower time of the year for them. Despite several places being closed, the folk park was so large and there was still so much to see.
When we finished walking around the folk park, we were cold and wet and getting hungry. We still had a while before dinner, so we stopped in at the cafe inside the gift shop for a chocolate chip cookie (as big as my face!), a warm hot chocolate, and a coffee.
The medieval feast was spectacular. It was such a fun experience and like nothing I’ve ever done before. Seriously, how could you not love an interactive dinner inside a castle?! When we entered the castle, we were sent to the great hall. We were greeted by period actors dressed in beautiful outfits and offered a glass of mead (honey wine). We sat on benches and waited for all the guests to arrive, enjoying our mead and chatting with others. Once everyone arrived, the actors performed a welcome song complete with a harpist and explained a bit of the castle’s history. They even chose a random man and woman to be the Earl and Lady for the evening.
Next, we headed down to the main guard where the banquet was held. Everyone was seated on benches along long wooden tables and the food was served family style. On every table, there was red and white wine, as well as water in pitchers for us to drink. We had the most wonderful dinner company- a woman, her boyfriend, and her mother (I think). They were so sweet, asking us about our trip and giving us some great suggestions for things to see and do on the remainder of our trip. The elderly woman was fantastic- the whole time she took care of Josh, she kept putting bread or more potatoes on his plate the whole night, making sure he was well fed.
We had a delicious four course meal (spiced parsnip soup-very light and yummy, spare ribs with honey and whiskey sauce- yes please!, chicken breast with potatoes, parsnips, and carrots- very good, and “lover’s delight” or fruit mousse- light, fluffy, and the perfect dessert after such a filling meal) in which we had only a knife to use for our silverware. During the feast, one guest was “trifling with the ladies of the house” and had to be put in the dungeon! It was great fun! To get out of the dungeon, the Earl of the evening declared Greg (the naughty guest) must sing a song in front of everyone. I could not stop laughing, it was so fun.
After dinner, the performers put on a wonderful performance of madrigal singing and harp playing. My favorite song was performed in Gaelic, so I have no idea what the words actually were, but we were told it was all about seaweed.
After the performance, we headed downstairs for coffee and tea and were escorted out by a man playing bagpipes. It was perfect.
The Central Hostel was were we ended up staying for the night, about an hour drive from Bunratty Castle. It had dark, creepy hallways. The rooms weren’t dirty, but they weren’t clean either and the bathroom was across the hall from our beds. There was loud techno music playing until very early morning and the people in the room next to us were obnoxious. While it was really cheap to stay there, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Tip of the day: Attend a medieval feast, no matter the cost! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!