If you ever have the good fortune to travel to Ireland, one of the most popular attractions is the medieval banquet held at Bunratty Castle in County Clare. These lively evenings are an excellent way to tour a restored 15th-century castle while enjoying a night of medieval food, reenactments, live music and dancing.
Overlooking the River Shannon, Bunratty (Bun Raite) Castle was once home to the O’Briens, Earls of Thomond, who controlled the castle between 1500 and 1640. The Great Earl, who died in 1624, was famous for his hospitality and entertained lavishly in the Great Hall, one of the castle’s grandest rooms. Today, it is beautifully restored to its original state, complete with 15th- to 17th-century furniture, tapestries and other fine objects.
The castle’s Main Guard room, once the soldiers’ dining and sleeping quarters, is now home to the grand four-course meal, offered by candlelight on rustic 15-foot-long wooden tables.
In the Middle Ages, diners used a dagger to eat their meal. Today’s guests are armed with a steak knife and colorful red bib.
The Bunratty Castle feast begins with a salted “friendship” bread (meant to stimulate the appetite) followed by a glass of warm mead, a sweet wine made from fermented honey, apple juice, clover and heather. In medieval times, a bottle of mead was offered to the bride and groom on their wedding day. The couple was expected to drink it each night for one full moon after the wedding, which is where the term “honeymoon” originated.
Mead was offered to protect the couple from fairies who might spirit the bride away. It was also believed to have magical powers of fertility and virility.
For those who can’t travel to the Emerald Isle, here is the Bunratty Castle Pork Ribs recipe, which is made with a honey whiskey sauce. Other items you’ll find on the Bunratty Castle menu include a delicious potato-leek soup, and a dessert called lover’s kiss, which is sponge cake with berries and cream. And while you won’t be able to duplicate the entertainment, you can play a CD of your favorite Baroque-style music and enjoy a mug of warm Bunratty Mead. Bunratty Mead is available in the United States through Camelot Importers at (800) 422-6356.