We flew from Atlanta overnight, caught an early-morning bus and reached Caisleán Bhun Raithe (or Bunratty Castle) just as the pink morning sun was appearing over the treetops. The air was clean and fresh, the grass damp. For the first time in years, I was standing in a place that was older (in terms of settlement) than my “home” country of America. Sometimes that feels so surreal.
This particular area is believed to have been settled as early as 970 AD, as a Viking camp, with the first fortress going up in 1250. Being made of a dirt mound and wood, this structure was replaced by stone, thanks to Thomas De Clare. Even the newest structure is hundreds of years old – 589 years old to be exact.
We walked into this immense structure, not expecting moderate-sized rooms, steep stairs, and narrow windows. As we clumsily followed the tour guide up the stairs, we realized that if we had this much trouble walking up them in full daylight, how much more difficult it would have been for full-armored men running up them with only a torch to light the way.
I am picturing a domino effect in my mind.
The MacNamara family had defense in mind when building the current structure. Narrow windows so that no one could come through them, but wide enough so that the archers could launch arrows through them. After a mere fifty years, however, the castle had changed hands yet again.
Once we reach the roof, we spied the green, rolling hills that Ireland is so famous for. Our eyes follow the “Ratty” River until it meets the Shannon River. And we see the Folk Park, with it’s thatched roofs and dirt paths. We head down to explore the village and, wonder of all wonders, I run into a friend who was spending the semester in England. We had not kept in touch, so it was quite a surprise for both of us. As the day drew to a close, my group climbed on the bus and prepared to head to our hotel for the night. My first day in Ireland left high expectations for the rest of my trip. I fell asleep with visions of emerald hills behind my eyelids.