On Tuesday we had a bright and sunny day and decided to head down to Bunratty Castle. Not much of a name I have to say but a beautiful castle. The scenery changed quite a bit as we drove. We've spent most of our time in the Burren which is limestone hills with bits of grassy areas and lots of livestock. As we drove towards Shannon, we found that there was less livestock yet more green areas, tons of green fields polka dotted the landscape like you see in pictures. This is how I had pictured Ireland. And once again, Josh and I were amazed at how little build up there is, everyone seems to have tons of land or at the very least is reasonably spaced apart (unless you are in the very suburbs of the cities like Dublin, Galway, etc etc).
It's a very rural life for sure and not one that I could see myself living in at this point in my life. I love the look of it but the idea of driving an hour for my groceries or to do any shopping (Josh would very much appreciate this part!) is not something that I find appealing at this time. However for the week and a half that we are here it's perfectly fine and I'm finding it charming (well sort of, when I'm not feeling carsick that is) to have to make a real trip to the store. And I thought I was shopping challenged in Barcelona!!
One of the many narrow roads, this one we shared with a tractor!
View as we drive towards Bunratty
Anyways, Bunratty was about an hour south of us heading towards Shannon Airport. Most of the roads we took were not along the coast and many were even tighter than the roads we'd previously been on - seriously I didn't think these roads could get more narrow. That pedestrian walkway we drove down in Italy? Totally spacious compared to some of these roads! I didn't do much research (ok any research) before we drove down there but Josh apparently had and knew there was a little Medieval village, kind of like going to Plimoth Plantation, where there were houses to go into and people to talk to who were "from" these times.
There were homes from various socioeconomic levels as well as different time periods. Some built as late as the 1800s whereas the castle itself was completed in it's current form in the 1500s. There was animals for the kids to see - deer, pigs, cows, horses and chickens. They got to see what life was like in the "olden" days (yes even older than mommy and daddy) and Aidan was especially fascinated with the doctor's office and where they would perform surgeries. I honestly don't think I would have survived in those days without modern conveniences like oh indoor plumbing, ovens and god forbid I'd have to sew something like a button (or even a whole outfit) on my own!! Yeah as much as it's fun to see, I don't think I'd fit in during those times!!!
The home of a "wealthy" farmer
And that farmer's kitchen
With a fire for cooking
Tea room house
Cool chickens with feathers on their feet
Liam was obsessed with the pigs
Piggies where are you????
Concocting some kind of weapon... boys...
Seriously someone slept in here??
With the cows????
The police officer stopped Liam from crying with the offer of a "sweetie" (mint)
All they need now is a horse
Josh thought I should stay here and learn a thing or two
Snacks and a walk
View from the gardens
Making new friends
Liam is now the child obsessed with horses
(take note Trish, I think he'll be riding when we move back!)
By the mill house
Cool mill along the side
Finally, the castle!
Aidan took this picture - not bad!
Liam "Look Mommy, they have a Liam sized cannon!"... oh fabulous!
In the dining area
View above the dining hall
You could make a fire right in the middle of the room!
Their royal highnesses
We spent pretty much the whole afternoon at Bunratty and had a great time! The kids loved running outside and we loved that they exhausted themselves! It wasn't til the end of the day when we stopped in a real grocery store (bigger than anything I've been in so far in most of Europe) that they were crazy children that I wanted to deny were mine. But we've moved on since then and since have been to yet another castle area.
Wednesday, we headed to Athenry - this time north, almost into Galway. It was there that we'd read about the Athenry Heritage Center which was related to the castle near by. They had a great program with archery, dress up and storytelling that we thought the kids would really like.
Again, it was about an hour north of where we are staying and this time instead of lots of rolling green hills, most of it was still a part of the Burren. But as we got closer to Galway we could see the towns were closer together, the houses not as widespread and it just had a much more suburban feel to it. The houses themselves are all so different, no two are alike unlike at home in the States where we live in the classic cookie-cutter neighborhood (nothing against it, just nice to see some originality in building). The house fronts are all different - bricks, tons of stone (stone being a very easy to access material here) and stucco (both smooth and rough looking) and the shapes of the houses all differed as well.
One of the things I've noticed a lot here is that a lot of the little canals/rivers have flowers hung up along them. So pretty!
When we got to Athenry we went in search of the Heritage Center which did not come up on our GPS (nor did the castle...hmmmm). We finally asked someone who pointed us in the right direction. And there it was, a sign that said simple Athenry Heritage Center.
Josh parked the car while I looked around. At first all I saw was an old church that looked abandoned and a graveyard, a bit spooky if you ask me! I did not see any entrance to what was supposed to be the Heritage Center which was supposed to be in the Church. Could Frommer's be wrong?? I walked with Liam to the end of the cemetary and there we saw a group of people doing archery - all adults. Ok, this is not looking so great as I promised Aidan that he could do archery and the book is Frommer's Ireland with Kids so I'm hoping we're ok.
Turns out we were fine. Yes we were supposed to pay in the church but we could do that later when we go in to do the medieval tour. So both boys got a chance to shoot a bow and arrow and they LOVED it! Liam was apprehensive at first but then was begging for a chance. Josh and I also gave it a shot - Josh had done it at camp years and years ago but this was my first try as far as I can recall.
Josh took his turn first
Aidan really loved shooting the arrow
Even I took a turn - those wires hurt when you release them!
Finally Liam got up the courage to do it and after that he was hooked!
Liam yet again!
After the archery we went inside and were given costumes - and what a bunch of fun that was for us as a family. Not just the kids dressing up but all of us. Liam kept telling me I looked beautiful in my gown - what a little sweetie he is! And he didn't care that my striped tee shirt was sticking out from under it either! We took some pictures outside and then did a little tour that ended with a performance put on by... all of us!
Liam as Robin Hood
Josh and Aidan
Yes we looked silly but we had so much fun!!!
Yes, all of us in the group (there were probably about twenty) were called up on to the stage depending on what our costumes were and there the narrator would tell us what our role was (none of us had to speak, just play act) and it was that way that we learned all about the history of this part of Ireland. It was a lot of fun and Liam especially loved getting on the stage and was constantly asking to go up - perhaps a future actor???? Aidan was more like myself as a kid and had absolutely no interest in being recognized in public and stayed seated where he was.
Liam at this point has been on stage multiple times - he's hooked on acting as well apparently!
Facepainting at the end (Aidan opted to not do this) - we've got an orange Batman!
Obscure sign to find where we were going
After lunch we did a drive by of the castle which was not nearly as impressive as Bunratty but a castle just the same. At what point in our lives in Europe can we really say, not nearly as impressive? Have we seen that many castles? Regardless, it wasn't much by comparison and I'm glad we just did the drive by. But I loved that we got to go to Bunratty yesterday and experience the life of those who lived in Medieval times and then today where we got to dress up and learn the history. See, history can be fun!!!
Horses on the ridge by our house rental