THE CASTLES OF IRELAND: Bunratty Castle

A couple of months ago we created a list of five popular castles around Ireland to share with you. (Read that story here.) Soon after that post, we quickly realized five was not enough! Ireland is filled with amazing castles—many of which are open for touring and exploring. In this new series, which will appear here periodically over the next few months, we’ll take a deeper look at more of Ireland’s historic, breathtaking castles. This week, we’re stepping into Bunratty Castle.

Location:
Bunratty Castle is in southern County Clare near the County Limerick line. It is located just miles from N18. The land on which the castle is situated was originally a Viking trading camp.

History:
The present castle, which is the fourth to be constructed on the site, was built in 1425. During the 19th century it was unoccupied and fell into disrepair until the mid 1950s when Viscount Lord Gort purchased the property and restored it to its former glory with aid from the Office of Public Works, the Irish Tourist Board and Shannon Development. In 1962 it opened for visitors year-round, and today it is touted as the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland.

The Grounds:
In addition to the castle, a visit to Bunratty should include time spent at the adjoining Folk Park. Here, you will experience life as it was in 19th century Ireland, complete with villagers in period costumes and the opportunity to visit buildings of the era, including a vertical mill, grocery, post office, pub, and more.

While you are at Bunratty Castle, also be sure to see the Walled Garden. This area was built around 1804 and functioned as a small garden on the east side of the estate.

The Castle’s Interior:
Lord and Lady Gort along with archaeologist John Hunt and his wife Gertrude, spent countless hours furnishing the castle with medieval furniture, artwork, and pieces that would have been a part of every day life at the time the castle was constructed. Guided tours are available or your can browse at your own leisure.

Events:
While you’re visiting, be sure to book a ticket for dinner at the castle’s medieval banquet. These nightly meals offer a glimpse of days gone by complete with musical entertainment and visits from characters in period costumes.

Additionally, Bunratty Castle continues its enchanting tradition by hosting birthday parties and special occasions. Costumed guides are available to entertain small children or give tours of the castle and folk park, making it a destination that continues to delight visitors of all ages from both near and far.

 Bunratty Castle is open year-round from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Learn more at shannonheritage.com.

Get to Know: Kerry Crafted Glass

Located in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, Kerry Crafted Glass is the handiwork of master craftsman Terence MacSweeney. He is no stranger to the craft, having started blowing glass in 1979 as well as training with well-known artisans and companies, including Langham Glass, before opening his business in 1998.

Today, he and his wife Helen along with their three daughters Niamh, Ruth, and Meabh oversee this family business, a venue that is open to visitors who wish to see and learn about the ancient art of glass blowing.

Each piece of Kerry Crafted Glass is made onsite. They are not only blown by mouth but also shaped by hand. The process begins with recycled glass pieces being melted in the company’s furnace. These burn at an astonishing 1,200 degrees. From there, the glass is gathered onto the blowing iron and blown. Color is also added at this time. More glass can be added to achieve the desired size or thickness. Next, the artisan moves to the bench to begin forming the shape of the piece. The entire process is hands-on—much like creating a work of art on canvas or a sculpture.

Candlesticks, urns, vases, bowls, lamps, and mirrors are just a few of the pieces that are created in this unique studio. Inspiration for both shape and palette often comes from the company’s location. The studio is situated near the Lakes of Killarney and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range that includes Ireland’s highest peaks.

Creative Irish Gifts is proud to carry pieces from Kerry Crafted Glass.  You can shop the collection here.

To learn more about the company and their craftsmanship, visit KerryCraftedGlass.com.

How to Spend 24 Hours in Dublin

Make the most it. That’s our motto when you have limited time in a place you love. If you find yourself in Dublin for a day, there are more options to fill your 24 hours than you can imagine. Here, we share four main themes to help you focus your time and—well, make the most of it.

Saint Stephen’s Green park, Dublin

PICK A PARK

Dublin is home to a number of enchanting parks with native plantings, pathways for walking, and even streams and water features. If the weather is nice, we recommend stopping in at one of these venues for a stroll. Walking through a park and taking in the sights is a no-fail way to get a feel for the local flavor of this capital city.

  • Stephen’s Green – This 22-acre park, which features a Victorian layout is located in the center of the city.
  • Phoenix Park – Originally used as a Royal deer park in the 17th century, this urban attraction is one of the largest designed landscapes in Europe; it offers numerous running trails.
  • St. Anne’s Park – Located on the coast, this park features amazing views of the shoreline as well as numerous seasonal plantings.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral 

GO TO CHURCH

Perhaps nowhere is the exquisite architecture more on display than in the churches and cathedrals of Ireland. Attend a mass or simply take a tour of one of these structures to fully appreciate its meaning and beauty.

  • Stephen’s Unitarian Church – Featuring an abundance of stained glass and a recently restored pipe organ, this centrally located church dates back to the mid 1800s.
  • Patrick’s Cathedral – Perhaps the most well-known Dublin cathedral, this structure is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. Visitors can tour the impressive structure, hear a daily sung service and visit the resting place of Jonathan Swift, which is marked by a brass plaque in the Cathedral.
Kilmainham Gaol

VISIT A MUSEUM

  • Kilmainham Gaol – Tour this prison, which is currently one of the largest unoccupied jails in Europe, while learning about the penal system’s history as well as the structure itself.
  • EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum – Located in the vaults of the 1820 Custom House Quarter building (which was the original departure point for many of Ireland’s emigrants), this museum offers an interactive experience chronicling the lives of those who have left the island.
  • Chester Beatty Library – Offering free admission, this museum displays paintings, prints, drawings, manuscripts, decorative arts, and more; plus, it continues to be ranked as one of the must-visit attractions in Ireland as well as all of Europe.

TAKE A LOAD OFF

 

If you’re in Ireland, you’ll want a Guinness (or your preferred beverage of choice) to cap off the day. Visit one of these establishments for an authentic experience.

  • Guinness Storehouse – The home of Guinness beer, this brewery is located in the St. James’s Gate Brewery. You’ll enjoy a pint while also learning more about this iconic beer.
  • The Brazen Head – Ireland’s oldest pub (it dates back to 1198), this bar offers a full menu and live music nightly.
  • The Pub Around the Corner – Rather than a specific destination, we recommend ducking around the corner and entering the first local bar or restaurant you come to; it’s a great way to take in the flavor of a city in a short period of time. Don’t want to go it alone? Ask your concierge or attendant for a recommendation.

The Legend of the Lucky Black Bog Cat

When you think of black cats, your thoughts may turn downward, as the felines are often viewed as a harbinger of bad luck or tough times. However, in Ireland one specific black cat—the Lucky Black Bog Cat—is said to bring good fortune, prosperity, and happiness to those with whom it crosses paths.

As legend has it, this cat was larger than typical house cats and made his home on the shores of Lough Neagh, a freshwater lake located in Northern Ireland. Unsurprisingly, the area is known for its bogs, thus the name seemed suited for this creature. The elusive cat is said to have feasted on small animals and insects for survival.

Today, tourists can find replicas of small Lucky Black Bog Cats almost everywhere on the island. This version is made of Irish turf, thus bringing a piece of the land—and the cat’s luck—into your own home.

 

Celebrate a First Communion

The sacrament of receiving one’s first holy communion is a sacred and special time. For many families, the day is marked with a celebration, a brunch or lunch, and even a few meaningful gifts from dear friends and family members. If you’re pondering what to give a young boy or girl who will soon receive his or her first communion, browse a few of our favorite ideas below.

First Communion Cross

Crosses are a sweet sentiment that are sure to remind a young girl or boy of this special occasion for many years to come. This silver version is available with either a boy or girl kneeling. The shamrocks they hold also signal Irish ties, adding another personalized touch for those of Irish heritage.

An Angel of Protection

This sweet guardian angel is not only meant to offer protection but also luck, thanks to the shamrock it holds. The piece is a part of the Belleek Pottery collection, a renowned company with a 160-year tradition of craftsmanship. It could make a perfect starter piece for a youngster’s collection.

Cross Necklaces

A necklace is a way to keep a symbol of one’s first communion close to the heart at all times. Choose from multiple options, including this unembellished male version and this delicate ladies’ necklace, which includes an emerald as nod to Irish roots.

 

Belleek Pottery: Celebrating 160 Years of Quality

The year 2017 marks 16 decades of distinctive, detailed, and stunningly beautiful craftsmanship at Belleek Pottery. Read on to learn more about this company’s rich Irish tradition.

 The Founding Father

John Caldwell Bloomfield founded Belleek Pottery in 1857 in Northern Ireland. It is said that he started the company’s tradition of excellence in the beginning by declaring that any piece with a flaw—or even the slightest imperfection—be broken and destroyed. This became—and still remains—the standard for all pieces.

The Crafting Process

An astonishing 16 artisans touch each piece of Belleek pottery before they are available to consumers. This is a process that has not changed much since the inception of the company. From the initial designs, which are produced to reflect Ireland as well as the potter’s heritage, through to the actual making of the piece and on to quality control, each step plays an important part in creating these distinctive pieces.

The Anniversary Collection

To mark celebration of 160 years, the potter has introduced the Belleek Archive Collection. Collectors around the globe seek to have pieces from this prized compilation, which includes sixteen pieces—all of which represent a different decade in the company’s history as well as a distinctive style. One of the more popular pieces (shown above) in the collection features an image of the Belleek building in the 1860s alongside today’s factory. Each one of these limited edition pieces is marked with a unique backstamp, indicating its inclusion in the collection.

Shop for Your Own Piece

Click here to browse numerous pieces of Belleek, including the Anniversary Collection mantel clock shown above.

Plan a Trip to Tour Belleek Pottery

Visit the pottery museum, tearoom, and more at the Belleek headquarters. Visit Belleek.com to plan your trip.

Cook Your Own Colcannon

Master the mix of potatoes and greens with this traditional Irish dish

For many people, there is no wrong way to eat a potato. They can be enjoyed boiled, baked, fried, or creamed. However, the Irish have long been known for adding a bit of flavor to this popular vegetable. Depending on the occasion, the menu, the seasonality, and the availability of herbs, numerous versions of colcannon—a dish of boiled potatoes and cabbage—have been created. And, the consensus seems to be this: there’s no wrong way to make colcannon. Here’s our recipe for a tried-and-true version.

Traditional Colcannon

INGREDIENTS

5 small- or medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled
2 cups of cabbage or kale, finely chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup of milk (add or reduce based on desired consistency)
1 stick of butter, quartered + 4 pats for serving
salt and pepper to taste

 

PREPARATION

Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow them to boil for 20 minutes or until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, prepare a second pot to boil the cabbage. Allow it to boil over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until soft. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.

Use a potato masher to crush the potatoes to your desired size and consistency. While the potatoes and cabbage are still warm, combine with all other ingredients in a large bowl—adding the milk slowly based on your desired consistency. If necessary, add more milk.

Scoop a serving of colcannon into a bowl and serve with a pat of butter pushed into its center.

Do you add other spices, herbs, or vegetables? Tell us how you make your version of colcannon.

Hitting the Right Notes: How the Harp Has Made Its Mark on Ireland

The harp has enjoyed longstanding prestige in Ireland. From the time when the Celts first came to Ireland to the late 18th century harpists, had an honorable place among musicians. Perhaps this can be attributed not only to the stringed-instrument’s melodious sounds but also to its age: Of all the musical instruments known today, the harp stand outs as one of the first to be created. It is believed that it was originally developed by modifying a hunting bow. It was also typically associated with the upper class who would have harpists come to their homes to play. Moreover, the instrument is often associated with Christianity and the angels who were depicted as harpists.

This level of honor and exposure helped to make it a symbol in Ireland. In the 16th century a picture of a harp was placed on the country’s currency by Henry VIII of England, who is said to have been a fan of the harp’s alluring music.

Today, the harp is Ireland’s national emblem and remains a symbol that many identify with the country, with scenes of harpists on hillsides often coming to mind. Along with these bucolic notions, it is also found in the logo for Ireland’s most well-known beverage, Guinness, and has even been trademarked by the government of Ireland—furthering its notoriety as a source of national pride.

Want to display a harp symbol in your own home? This Tower Centerpiece was created by famed Belleek Pottery as a part of their 160th Anniversary Collection. It features traditional Irish icons including the harp, shamrocks, a stone tower, and the Celtic cross. The limited edition piece is marked with a special anniversary stamp.

 

 

Informational source: International Harp Museum, internationalharpmuseum.org

5 Irish Castles to Know

Check out five of Ireland’s must-see castles


Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus

Both the age and architecture of Carrickfergus Castle make it a must-see among Ireland castles. Work began on the structure in 1177 and it was garrisoned for 750 years. The landmark, which is one of the best-preserved medieval structures in the country is located on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. The castle grounds and building are currently open year-round for viewing.


Dunluce Castle

Bushmills

You may have heard the tale of this castle’s kitchen—along with its staff—falling into the waters of the Antrim coast above which this residence was built. While there are debates on the validity of this story, one thing is for certain: the site seems to hang on the local crags, coming dangerously close to sliding into the water. This medieval castle, which is now in ruins, is said to have been built in 1513. The site is open for guests to view for a small fee.


Johnstown Castle

Wexford

Also home to the Irish Agricultural Museum, which is housed in the former estate farm buildings, this castle is a day destination for the entire family. The castle itself dates back to the 19th century and features exquisite gardens, three onsite lakes, waterfalls, statues, and a family of peacocks. While the interior of the castle is not presently open to the public, the grounds and museum are open year-round, seven days a week.


Malahide Castle

Malahide

One of the oldest castles in Ireland, Malahide dates back to the late 12th century. Set on 260 acres, the site was home to the Talbot family for more than 800 years. Through the years, towers, turrets, and wings have been added to the original design. The castle and gardens are currently available for tours. In addition, many seasonal events are held onsite for locals and tourists to enjoy.


Doonagore Castle

Doolin

This castle is a bit different in terms of its architecture and purpose. The site consists of a round tower, which serves as a navigational marker for boats approaching nearby Doolin Pier, and a walled courtyard with a bucolic feel. This particular castle was built in the 16th century, but prior to that another stood in its place on the site. Doonagore was purchased and renovated by an Irish American in the 1970s and remains a private holiday home that is not open to the public at the present time.

Favorite Irish Sayings

Proverbs and adages have a way of sticking with us—particularly if they come from a trusted source. The Irish have long been known as one of these sources when it comes to wisdom, hope, and a bit of humor. These eight sayings are just a few of the well-known favorites.

  • “May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.”

While the origin of this saying is uncertain, its sentiment is an expression that is still used today as a lighthearted yet heartfelt wish between friends.

  • May the road rise up to meet you.
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face.
    May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
    and until we meet again may the Lord
    hold you in the palm of his hand.

This Irish blessing is a well-known favorite for friends and acquaintances alike. Display the saying in your home with a plaque that can hang in the entry or a tea towel for the kitchen.

 

  • “You should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Sometimes the truth isn’t quite as interesting as the way you remember the story. Fishing buddies and golf partners are sure to like this plaque as much you.

 

 

  • “May your blessings outnumber
    The shamrocks that grow.
    And may trouble avoid you
    Wherever you go.”

This blessing is a favorite for those who are traveling or loved ones you don’t have the opportunity to see often.

  • “Life is like a cup of tea…
    It’s all in how you make it.”

While it may not be uniquely Irish, this saying seems to sum up the Ireland’s optimistic culture. This plaque can serve as a daily reminder to see the tea cup as half full.

  • “Now don’t be talking about yourself while you’re here.
    We’ll surely be doin’ that after you leave.”

Although many Irish sayings have a dash of humor, this has to be one of the more comical—and to the point—ones. Share the saying with a friend you love dearly.

 

 

  • “Continual cheerfulness is a sign of wisdom.”

It’s hard to argue with a saying that welcomes joy at all turns.

  • “May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
    Bless every fireside every wall and door
    Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
    Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
    Bless every foot that walks its portals through
    May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.”

St. Brigid’s (a patron saint of Ireland) blessing is a favorite for housewarming gifts and your own home’s entryway.

Don’t see your favorite included in this list? Share it with us now!