Pioneers in the Development of the Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle Dominic Taylor / September 23, 2021 2 Comments
Great Ladies..Such a shame Bunratty isn’t open for banquets right now, if you can have 100 guest’s at a wedding, a little rearranging of tables would work.
Miriam O'Gara says
I totally understand people feeling sad that the banquets are not back yet. I’m a former Bunratty Castle Entertainer, so for the non-Bunratty Castle Entertainers reading, and anyone who has never been to a banquet, maybe I can suggest why I can see the logistical challenges with regards to implementing social distancing in a GENUINE 15th Century fortress, and why the rearranging of table could be a problem. It could be done with the Ceile, but not the castle shows and here’s why.
The winding stone staircase is narrow (to make life difficult for invaders. Most castle entry points are designed to trap and contain invaders) and guests generally want to stay close for balance as they ascend to the top floor of the castle, where the show starts and where the King and Queen are crowned. As the show takes place over 3 stories, there are periods when guests must stand queuing quite close together, and this will happen more than once. The guests generate body heat in the banqueting hall and in these genuine medieval buildings, which don’t do air-con (walls are too thick), so body heat from people and animals is, I’m afraid, how you heated a room in the 1400s (turf fires in winter too. Very smokey). I can well remember how it felt to be sweltering in a packed summer banquet, with all of us singers dressed head to toe in velvet. But we wanted that way. The show worked. It was wonderful, and for the show to work, the entertainers have to be up close and personal with the guests. We all loved that. It’s part of the experience. You are both performer host and hostess, in deep conversation as a lady of the castle (NEVER wench!) one minute, and the next monute, up singing in harmony or performing a speech or sing you sole. These were the most beautiful classically celtic laments, madrigals and specially composed arrangements from Ireland’s finest composers. All this, 2 shows a night, 6 days a week with 3 days off.
The ladies in the photo are on the rostrum stage. The rest of the banqueting hall consists of long tables (think Game of Thrones), 2 of the long tables can hold an entire large tour group (some times more than one), not to mention tables with individuals (those not attached to a tour). It just isn’t possible to slash numbers, as being hustled up close together, is part and parcel of the medieval experience. However, the highlight of the evening hasn’t yet started. The show proper begins after dinner. For the singer, our audience is no more than a couple of feet away at any one time, and there has to be a lot of people in that hall to create atmosphere. It just doesn’t work without it. There would, from time to time, be the odd occasion when we would play to 60 people, or less, fine once or twice, but you need a full banqueting hall.
Economically, my guess is reducing numbers would mean it would operate at an unsustainable loss. The Entertainers have to be paid, kitchen staff, pipers, banqueting managers, site empoyees, (the Ceile, would of course have to open for shows too) shop employees, drivers, the food, the Bunratty Mead, the wines, the list is endless.
It is a unique show, with a unique brand, and so to water it down in any way, would in my view, ruin it. It is famous for many things including the fact that the show your parents and grandparents saw, is pretty much the show YOU will see too.
My hope is that the Bunratty, Knappogue and Dunguire Castle singers, actors and dancers will, as society relaunches its entertainment industry, start touring and performing off-site, which they have a long, long history of doing, both in Ireland and abroad. Bunratty Castle Entertainers spent years touring all over the world in their off months. I’d love to see this done again, and hopefully re-launch the banquets at a later date. I’m sure this will happen and I an’t wait to see them all back soon.