The 60th anniversary of the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet was celebrated with the launch of a new exhibition chartering the history, evolution and popularity of one of Ireland’s oldest running evening entertainment shows.
More than 3 million people have attended the banquets since the dramatic idea of a medieval meal in a 15th century Irish castle captured the imagination of travel agents, dignitaries, and celebrities worldwide in the 1960s.
Today’s launch event was attended by past and present banquet performers and producers, Elected Members and officials of Clare County Council, the Trustees of Bunratty Castle and family members of the late Dr Brendan O’Regan, who introduced the first commercial medieval banquet at the newly restored Bunratty Castle in April 1963.
Officially opening the exhibition, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council Cllr. Tony O’Brien said the banquet’s international appeal remains as strong today as it did back in the 1960s when the visionary Dr. O’Regan spearheaded its inception.
He added, “An integral driver to the growth of US visitors to the West of Ireland in the 1960s, this magical evening of medieval music, mead and merriment is still going strong 60 years later having welcomed over 3 million guests and overcome economic and social adversity throughout its long history. I want to congratulate everyone associated with its continued success.”
The Bunratty Banquet Exhibition, which is located within the grounds of the Folk Park, features pictorial records of the banquets over the past six decades, video footage of performances from the past to the present day, interviews with former and current performers and producers, and displays of costumes and instruments that have been donated by past entertainers.
Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council, commented, “Aside from being a notable landmark in the Clare countryside, Bunratty has been at the forefront of the Mid West Region’s tourism story for many decades. Dr O’Regan’s vision brought about this venture and the commitment and creativity of hundreds of people down through the past 60 years has ensured its enduring popularity.”
Declan O’Regan, son of the late Dr. O’Regan, said his father would be proud of how the banquet remains an important fixture on the itinerary of many visitors to Ireland 60 years on.
“The family is honoured to be represented at the official opening of this exhibition, which stands as a legacy to those pioneering early days of promoting cultural tourism in County Clare and the wider Midwest to a growing international market,” he added.
Adrienne O’Flynn, Brand Marketing Manager for Shannon Heritage, commented, “From humble beginnings during the early trial banquets of 1962 when employees of Shannon Development volunteered to don medieval costume and entertain guests, the success of Bunratty castle as a medieval banqueting venue prompted other castles to be sought for similar revitalisation, including Dunguaire Castle, near Kinvara, and the 15th century Knappogue Castle, near Quin. Collectively the three sites have attracted more than 5 million people to their banquets since the 1960s, which is testament to everyone involved.”
Entertainment at the banquets is provided by the world-famous Bunratty Castle Singers with enchanting melodies to harp and violin accompaniment. Less than 3 months after the first commercial banquet got underway, international fame came to the Singers when they performed twice for US President John F Kennedy. The Singers performed for President Nixon at the White House, and have appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Rockefeller Centre and as the interval act for the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest. The group has also performed for US President Ronald Reagan, President of France Charles de Gaulle, Pope John Paul II, Crown Prince Akihto of Japan, Princess Grace, Bob Hope and The Beatles.
Colette Davis, who has been the musical director of the Bunratty Castle Singers for almost 50 years, commented, “The Bunratty Singers are an intrinsic part of the Bunratty Castle success story and are renowned the world over. We are very proud of the group’s contribution to making the medieval banquet an integral part of this iconic visitor attraction and the wider tourism product in County Clare.”
Meanwhile, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park will host a festival later this year, marking the integral role of the Irish Harp to the banquet offering and the importance of the instrument and national emblem in the growth and popularity of Irish music worldwide. The Festival, hosted in collaboration with Deirdre O’Brien Vaughan of The Irish Institute of Traditional Music, will present visitors with the opportunity to enjoy performances by past and present Bunratty Castle Entertainers and renowned harpists, as well as partake in specially commissioned harp workshops.
The Banquet Exhibition launch was followed by a tree planting ceremony in the Folk Park. Dr. O’Regan’s children, Carmel, Andrew and Declan, planted a ‘Councillor’ apple tree in their father’s memory.
The Bunratty Banquet Exhibition runs until November 2023. Admission is included in the standard Bunratty Castle and Folk Park ticket which can be purchased on www.bunrattycastle.ie.