Marauding Celts, 15th century medieval minstrels, 19th century Bean an Tí’s (Gaelic for ‘women of the house’) are alive and well in Ireland’s Shannon Region to help holidaymakers experience time travel. Whether you want to travel back to medieval times, or as far back as the stone age, Ireland’s Shannon region is a good destination.
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The Shannon region encompasses the counties of Clare, Limerick, south Offaly, north Tipperary, and north Kerry. It is a place of unique character and beauty nestling in the heart of the west of Ireland.
Shannon Heritage operates eight daytime visitor attractions and four evening entertainments. These attractions invite the visitor ‘into the magic and mystery of the pre-historic, Celtic, Viking, Anglo-Norman, and native societies dating back over 5,000 years ago to the present day.
The journey or ‘time travel’ begins in relatively modern times in Limerick City, the capital of the Shannon region, which is a 20 minutes drive from Shannon international airport. The restored and refurbished ‘Georgian House and Garden’ of the same period is located at No.2 Pery Square. At the rear of the house, inside the ‘Coach House’ is the new ‘Ashes Exhibition’. Designed as a memoir of Limerick, ‘Rising from the Ashes’, it has come about out of the success of the ‘Booker Prize’ winning novel, ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt, which has been translated into 30 languages world wide. Today Limerick is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city situated on the banks of the river Shannon, and far from Frank McCourt’s Limerick of the 1930s and 1940s, which no longer exists. Thus the Ashes Exhibition is the only record of what life was like in Limerick during that time.
Travelling further back into the past, the visitor’s journey leads to Bunratty Folk Park. Bunratty Folk Park, situated in the grounds of the 15th century Bunratty Castle, depicts life in rural and urban Ireland at the turn of the 19th Century with authentically recreated farmhouses and an entire village street.
Shannon Heritage operates unique evening dinner entertainments at ‘Barn’ in Bunratty Folk Park. Here visitors have the opportunity to take part in, and learn, the art of Ceili Dancing at ‘Style – Story of Irish Dance’, from its origins taught by the ‘Dance Master’ to the present day ‘Riverdance’.
By day at the Folk Park, traditionally dressed 19th century ladies or “Bean an Tí” demonstrate the art of baking traditional wheaten bread, scones, and porter cake. At night at Bunratty Castle the visitor steps back in time to partake of a medieval banquet and become medieval Irish nobility. Each night an ‘Earl and Lady of Thomond’ is drawn from the audience to preside over the feast, sending one of their ‘subjects’ to the dungeon, only to be rescued by a song or recitation.
The company operates two other medieval banquet castles, 15th century Knappogue Castle in County Clare and ancient Dunguaire Castle in County Galway, also a 15th century castle. By day these fortresses are open for public viewing. Each of the evening entertainments varies in theme. A wonderful performance is guaranteed at each venue by the Shannon castle entertainers. Knappogue Castle with its self catering apartment is available for hire and offers visitors an opportunity to literally live like Celtic lords.
Venturing further back in time, a visit to 13th century King John’s castle in Limerick city allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of England’s King John. As ‘Lord of Ireland’, he minted his own money and visitors can strike a replica of that same coin today. The archaeological remains here of pre-Norman houses represent the beginnings of urban history, while the castle itself and the exhibition housed in the entrance building bring to life the Viking origin of the city and subsequent Anglo-Norman colonization and development of the thriving medieval town.
Shannon Heritage has recaptured Ireland’s Celtic heritage at ‘Craggaunowen in County Clare, where actors and actresses from local theatrical groups are used to bring this era to life. ‘Caomhán – the Celtic Warrior’ enlivens the visitor’s insight into life in bronze age Ireland. Here the story is told of how the Celts lived, fought, farmed, hunted, and died, and the changes they brought to the social organisation of the tribes or clans. In fact, grazing within the typical lake dwelling or ‘Crannóg’ are wild boar and sheep typical of the era.
Shannon Heritage operate a visitor centre in Lough Gur, in County Limerick, which tells the story of stone age man dating back 5000 years and is one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites. Here is evidence of the first farmers to the region as well as their tools and implements, all of which can be seen at the visitor centre.
The town of Killaloe situated on the banks of Lough Derg, Ireland’s largest pleasure lake, was the birth place of Brian Boru (940-1014), the greatest high king of Ireland. Here Shannon Heritage operates the Killaloe Heritage Centre, which tells his. The centre charts the arrival of Christianity and the monastic tradition, as well as the development of the Shannon River as a transport system.
King John's Castle, Dunguaire Castle and Lough Gur wedge tomb photos courtesy Irish Antiquities