Bunratty Castle (Irish: Caisleán Bhun Raithe, meaning "Castle at the Mouth of the Ratty") is a large tower house in County Clare, Ireland. It lies in the centre of Bunratty village (Irish: Bun Ráite), by the N18 road between Limerick and Ennis, near Shannon Town and its airport. The name Bunratty, Bun Raite (or possibly, Bun na Raite) in Irish, means the 'bottom' or end of the 'Ratty' river. This river, alongside the castle, flows into the nearby Shannon estuary. From the top of the castle, one can look over to the estuary and the airport.
Key events in Bunratty's history include:
* The first dwellings to occupy the site, in 970 were part of a Viking trading camp.
* In 1270, Robert De Muscegros built the first defensive fortress, known as a motte and bailey castle.
* These lands were later granted to Thomas de Clare, who built the first stone structure on the site. At this time Bunratty town had grown to a population of 1,000.
* In 1318, Thomas's son Richard de Clare, Steward of Forest of Essex (new holder of the castle) was killed in the Battle of Dysert O'Dea during the Irish Bruce Wars 1315-1318. The castle and town were completely destroyed by the victorious O'Briens.
* In 1332, soon after being restored for the King of England, the castle was once again razed by the Irish Chieftains of Thomond under the O' Briens and the MacNamaras.
* In 1353, after lying in ruins for 21 years, it was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Rokeby, but was almost immediately attacked again by the Irish and was held by Irish hands thereafter.
* The present structure was completed by the MacNamara family around 1425 but 50 years later was in the hands of the O'Briens, the most powerful clan in Munster.
* In 1646, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Barnaby O'Brien, the Earl of Thomond, allowed a large English Parliamentary garrison to land in Bunratty. The castle was besieged and taken by the forces of Confederate Ireland under Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry.
* When Barnaby, or Barnabas O'Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, left Bunratty for England in 1646 for his own safety, during the Confederate wars, he
* Bunratty Castle and its lands were granted to the Studdert family. They left the castle in 1804 (allowing it to fall into disrepair), to reside in the more comfortable and modern adjacent Bunratty House built by the family. The reasons for the move are bound up in family arguments over the eldest son marrying his first cousin. Both the castle and house are open to the public.
* In 1954 the castle was purchased and restored by the 7th Lord Gort. He reroofed the castle, which had no longer been lived in as much at the time, and saved it from ruin.
The first settlement in Bunratty was by Vikings in 970AD. Bunratty had reached it peak in 1804AD, with a thriving economy, expanding community, and the construction of much of the buildings and infrastructure that we see today. At the time, Bunratty Bridge was the largest single arched bridge in the country.
However, throughout the famine years, Bunratty's population fell into decline. In the 1950’s, Bunratty’s most prominent structure, Bunratty Castle, grabbed the attention of the Hunt family, Lord Gort and the Irish Government, and so began the most extensive renovation in the history of the Irish State. Although Bunratty Castle thrived, being a number one destination for early transatlantic tourist, the village continued to decline.
The village had been reduced to the pub, Durty Nellys, a run down House was established around 1804.