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My Ireland: Medieval magic in an Irish castle

Elaborate gown-clad ladies, men in long shirts and tunics and the chime of harp strings in the air, at Dunguaire Castle’s medieval banquet, the entertainment was as far away from the 21st century as you can get. And everybody absolutely loved it…

Stepping inside the stone walls of Galway’s Dunguaire Castle is akin to stepping back in time. I can just imagine mighty King Guaire of Connacht traipsing through the stone passages. 

Our evening at the castle banquet begins with a mead reception and a sing-song welcome from the warm host, accompanied by an enchanting harpist. Our party includes groups of American and Canadian tourists – or should I say, lords and ladies, as we were called throughout the evening!

After indulging in the sweet mead, we are invited up the spiral stone-staircase to our cosy banquet hall. Long wooden tables illuminated by candlelight fill the room, while the walls are adorned in medieval shields. Just think of the rousing celebrations that would've taken place here in medieval times... Tables laden with ham, pheasant, cheeses and breads come to mind with conversation flowing as steadily as the wine! 

Smoked salmon and fresh brown soda bread lay waiting for us, but before we tuck in, our hosts nominate a King and Queen for the night to be crowned at the high table. We later learn that the happy couple is here to celebrate their joint birthdays after a long married life together!

We drink wine from goblets and eat soup straight from the bowl – medieval style! Our entertainment is enchanting, as the hosts sing limericks about famous Irish wordsmiths, including WB Yeats, JM Synge and Lady Gregory, to name a few! All of whom had graced the castle with their presence at one time or another to discuss literature, life and their love of both. It's comforting to know that the future of Ireland's written word had a safe haven such as this to call home.  

One highlight of the evening is a ballad about Galway’s iconic Claddagh ring, forged by the tradition of Richard Joyce, a goldsmith who crafted the beautiful design into an engagement ring for his sweetheart. After the lovely tale, I am lucky enough to be chosen as the “lady” who receives the ring, an honour I rather bashfully accept as the crowd clap and cheer. 

Our main meal consists of a generous helping of chicken, potatoes, veg and creamy mushroom sauce, which is dished out by “kitchen maids” costumed in aprons and ruffled caps. We are sure to leave room for the delicious apple pie that follows. By the end of the feast I am completely stuffed – if there was a bed chamber to retire to – it would have my name on it! 

After an evening of laughs, cheers and merriment, our fabulous hosts bid us adieu. But not wishing our night to end, we mingle (off-script) downstairs at a tea and coffee reception.

What stands out about this medieval banquet is that you can tell that each and every person who has spent their time entertaining and serving us through the festivities truly love their jobs. I suppose with a workplace like Dunguaire Castle, it’s fair to say they’re living the (medieval) dream.

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