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HOME AT FIRST'S

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IRELAND

CRAGGAUNOWEN

 

History & Prehistory Hidden Among Central Ireland's Hills

Photos © HOME AT FIRST                             This updated article first appeared in NOVEMBER, 2004.              MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014

 

   

Craggaunowen's enchanted forest path leads visitors through 1,500 years of Irish (pre-)history. Photo © Home At First.

Craggaunowen's enchanted forest path
leads visitors through 1,500 years
of Irish (pre-)history.

Walk through 1,500 years in the forest of County Clare...
          We love the mistiness of Irish history. Its uncertainty, its subjectivity, its influence by myth and fabrication equate it perfectly with the Irish character and invite you to make your own interpretation.
          In Ireland, only scant remains of early history and prehistory may be found. Layers of invasions by marauding Vikings, Normans, and English armies have largely eradicated the historic landscape. Warring Celtic tribes, famine, and the slow eroding forces of wind and water have played no

 

small part in decimating the past.

          But what exists is tantalizing, inviting the speculation of the viewer. One site in Central Ireland offers glimpses of several eras of Irish prehistory and history. At Craggaunowen in County Clare, visitors return briefly to the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Dark Ages, and the Middle Ages, all, as it were, on a walk in the park. And the people you meet along the way will help you come to know why life in the past wasn’t always "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
          Come along on a day trip to the past amid the soft scenery of
Central Ireland.


OUT OF THE DARK AGES
          Craggaunowen is the idea of John Hunt, scholar of medieval history, collector of artifacts, and advisor to the noted auction house, Sotheby’s, on medieval art. In the 1960’s Hunt purchased an obscure parcel of land in remote eastern County Clare, Ireland, upon which sat a partially restored 16th century fortified castle tower. Hunt’s ambition went beyond finishing the small castle’s restoration. He hoped to develop the adjoining land into a series of (pre-)historic steps showing how people lived in Ireland (and throughout much of Europe) from pre-Roman tribal times through the feudal Middle Ages. The resulting living museum permits visitors to wander along pleasantly wooded pathways, past ponds, marshes, and small streams, through thickets and a dense, stony-floored forest, with surprises from the past

Craggaunowen Crannog. Photo © Home At First.

THATCHED CRANNOG HUT AT
CRAGGAUNOWEN CRANNOG

awaiting round every bend in the trail.

 

 

Craggaunowen Medieval Castle. Photo © Home At First.

CRAGGAUNOWEN'S MEDIEVAL CASTLE

CASTLE & CRANNOG
          Once you pass through the small visitor center, the trail leads to the impressive stone tower house, looking perfectly impregnable perched on a rocky hillock. You may explore the little castle — its height permits the only overview of the Craggaunowen property — in less than 10 minutes. The trail leads from the castle down to a hidden pond. On a man-made island in the pond is a reconstructed Bronze Age "crannog" settlement connected by a causeway bridge. Its low thatched roof huts, rude earth floors and open fire pits make this Irish crannog look like it belongs on the African savanna. The prehistoric Bronze Age dwelling offered shelter with a fair measure of protection from marauders on two legs and four.

 

A LIVING MUSEUM
          Back on shore, turn left and follow the trail into the forest. Pass an Iron Age farmer’s field planted as thought typical of the millennium from 600BC-400AD. A few steps further and you arrive at an Iron Age ring fort, exemplar of an Irish farmstead from 400AD until the Anglo-Norman invasions of the 12th century.

          So commonplace were these fenced-in circular farms in the British Isles that some 40,000 such sites are known in Ireland alone. Seeing one as it may well have been — with thatched huts for humans and animals, fire pits and grinding stones — only raises questions. How did these people survive harsh times: too much or too little rain, clan warfare, Viking invasion, disease, injury, even childbirth? Fortunately, Craggaunowen is a "living museum" with

Thatched Iron Age ring fort dwelling with outdoor 'kitchen'. Photo © Home At First.

Thatched Iron Age ring fort
dwelling with outdoor 'kitchen'.

staff dressed appropriately for the times featured

 

along the walk and demonstrating skills and crafts representative of the periods.

 

The forest path leads to Bronze Age crannog dwellings set on pilings in a small lake. Photo © Home At First.

A WALK IN THE PARK
          You can walk the Craggaunowen walkway, experiencing at least 1,500 years of murky history and mysterious pre-history all in about 1 hour. There’s a pleasant souvenir shop and garden café at the entrance/exit. Best of all, a visit to Craggaunowen requires that you leave Ireland’s well-beaten tourist track and for a few hours drive the winding back roads of scenic eastern County Clare.

The forest path leads to Bronze Age crannog
dwellings set on pilings in a small lake.

 

GOOD-BYE COLUMBUS?
           Every corner along the way hides some new surprise—a Celtic standing stone, a dugout canoe, a high cross. But no surprise is greater than finding an ocean-going boat in a glass house on a wooded hillside. The boat is none-other than "The Brendan", the Kon-Tiki of Ireland. This leather-bound, super-sized Irish currach boat was built in 1976 by Tim Severin, who sailed it from nearby County Kerry across the North Atlantic to Newfoundland. Severin proved that such a boat could indeed have carried

"The Brendan" under glass at Craggaunowen. Photo © Home At First.

'The Brendan' under glass
at Craggaunowen.

St. Brendan to America in the early 6th century, 400

 

years before Leif Ericson, and almost 1,000 years before Columbus. The boat is now as high and dry as Noah’s Arc on a hillside in County Clare.

 

VISITING CRAGGAUNOWEN
          Getting to Craggaunowen is part of the fun. You will need a good map, a sense of adventure and a keen eye for the few signs pointing the way. Please note that the map below shows numbered routes, but that in Ireland the custom is not to refer to roads by route number but by destination ("the road to Quin", "the road to Tulla", "the road to Sixmilebridge", etc.), so when you ask locally for directions be sure to have your destination ready.

• Location: 6.75mi E of Quin, Co. Clare, and 6mi N of Sixmilebridge off the R462 from Cratloe and the R469 from Ennis. See map below.

• Open daily Easter through August 10AM-5PM (last admission at 4PM). Times subject to change.

• Admission: Adults €8; Seniors €6.85; Children 6-16 €4.50; Family (2 adults & up to 6 children) €24.50. (Entrance fees subject to change.)

• Website: for current information, visit: http://www.shannonheritage.com/Craggaunowen/TheLivingPastExperience/.

• Other Points of Interest in the Region: Knappogue Castle, Dromoland Castle, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Ennis old town, Quin Friary, Clare Abbey.

 

Map of East Clare and Northern Tipperary Counties, Ireland. Map © Home at First.
 
 

— VISIT CRAGGAUNOWEN —
as part of your next visit to Ireland.

This article comes from Home At First's exclusive
"Ireland Activities Guide" that comes to you as part of your trip.

Learn all about Home At First's travel programs to: IRELAND.

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CENTRAL IRELAND, SOUTHERN IRELAND, NORTHWESTERN IRELAND, OR NORTHERN IRELAND.
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Home At First to Britain & Ireland, see: BRITISH ISLES.

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