Monday, October 29, 2012

Mead and Mess

Bunratty Castle, Caisleán Bhun Raithe, in County Clare near Limerick, feels both authentic and totally Disneyfied at the same time. This is not a complaint, mind you. It's actually quite a pleasant combination. Here's a place that screams "medieval!" and "country!" yet simultaneously "clean!" and "not smelly!" The current structure is basically a 15th century castle, though it was built, burned, rebuilt, razed, rebuilt, and attacked for about 500 years before that. I'm perfectly happy to miss that particular period of authenticity.

Bringing the medieval Irish authenticity barometer down a notch today is the fact that Bunratty is dressed up for a Halloween celebration. I don't know if the Bobby and old-timey guy in front of the J.J. Corry tabacco shop would always be dressed that way. But, given the quaintness of the folk village that lies in the shadow of the castle, it's a distinct possibility.


The highlight of Bunratty for us is the medieval dinner, with period music. Pippa can not believe that we are really going to eat dinner in a castle. Until we actually sit down, she is convinced I am pulling her leg. It turns out that even though there are very few children at the dinner, I think we're the ones who've planned it perfectly. It's a great thing to do with kids this age. They are in hysterics when one of the other guests gets thrown into the dungeon and has to sing his way back to the Lord and Lady's good graces. They even request a visit to the dungeon themselves. They are at that magical age and will believe almost anything, and they really feel like they've gone back in time. A time when busty wenches served ribs that hinted of Southwestern US BBQ followed by fluffy, refrigerated  blancmange desserts.

Along with the live period music, one of the best parts is that forks were not a regular part of dining until one or two hundred years later than the castle's 15th century theme. So the kids get to rip into the chicken and vegetables (as well as the more normal finger foods like ribs and bread) with their hands. In keeping with the times, they are also allowed to stab their food and eat off their knives. So they're not complaining about any small historical anomolies. Look, who am I to gripe about anachronisms, when we bring our daughters to a medieval dinner dressed as a gypsy and a leopard?


And of course, this being a medieval meal, instead of Guinness or even wine, we have honey mead. This is such a Bunratty medieval dinner tradition that later, when we are in Dublin at a pizza restaurant and the waitress walks up just in time to hear the single word "mead", she immediately asks, "So, did you eat at Bunratty, then?" It's honey wine and so sweet, even my high-school, Bartles-&-James-wine-cooler-loving self would have been happy to down a ceramic mug of it. Here's my honey, drinking the honey.

Despite the festivities today, the kids are counting down the days till the real holiday. More on Halloween, well, on Halloween.

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