Be my guest in BunrattyWith 13 ensuite bedrooms, this former tourist stopover is primed for a big family
Bunratty Castle is commonly seen as something of a tourist trap, full of red-haired girls saving up for college by playing the harp for Americans. But among the plaid-clad foreign throngs, you'll find plenty of home-produced tourists too, as Bunratty represents a surprisingly fun day out for even native families.
The 15th century castle itself is not even the main attraction as there's more to see in the surrounding folk park - an immense, 26ac recreation of 19th century life. Even children seem to revert to pre-21st century versions of themselves there and frolic in the grass without recourse to electronics.
The 'village' preserves class distinctions unapologetically, so you get a priceless insight into tuppence-ha'penny looking down on tuppence. The lowest dwelling is a labourer's bothán, the highest is the Big House with its beautiful walled garden. In between are various grades of cottage, all with turf fires and dim as a tomb. And in nearly every one, an elderly Irish-American materialises in the gloom, wondering how they could possibly have originated from so little.
The castle and folk park gets over 340,000 visitors a year, placing it among the top 10 fee-paying attractions in the country, so you can see why residents of the locality tend to turn their hands to tourism enterprises.
So it was for the owners of Bunratty Woods - a sprawling dormer bungalow about 10 minutes' walk from the castle on a site that was once the deer park of the estate. The current owners bought it in the 1990s and set about a major refurbishment, and from 1995 to 2011 it was run as a successful guesthouse, with 13 ensuite bedrooms and four reception rooms.
It's now on the market for the first time in a generation and the selling agents advise it could be easily enough returned to its former use as a guesthouse or put to a different commercial use. Or they suggest you could just keep the whole place to yourself and have a bumper family home - one that also comes with a separate two-bedroom cottage.
To get to Bunratty Woods you must take the narrow road that runs north from the castle - the Low Road - keeping the folk park on your left and Durty Nelly's pub on your right, and not be tempted off your path by either distraction. The house is about a kilometre up, looking east towards Cratloe Hill.
It's set well back from and above the road behind a lawned garden and hedging on an elevated three-quarters-of-an-acre site bounded by mature trees. Inside, the house is a whopping 7,406 sq ft in a more or less oblong layout. Inside the front lobby, there's a reception hall with a beamed ceiling, a fireplace with a stove in it... and a bar - in case you and your friends are too lazy to make your way down to Nelly's. Beyond that and straight ahead is a drawing room with a fireplace, while to the left is the kitchen. It's fitted with white-painted cabinets and a centre island with a raised breakfast bar and there's a dining area felicitously set out against two windows.
An archway in the kitchen leads through to the dining room, where there's another beamed ceiling and a door to the back garden.
The fourth and final reception room is a sitting room at the front of the house, with two windows overlooking the front garden and the easterly view.
There are three bedrooms on the ground floor, while the other 10 are up on the first floor, all ensuite. If you didn't need this many bedrooms, you could consider enlarging an ensuite or two, as some of them are quite small.
A living room or study on this level would also have the advantage of the longer, upper-storey view.
The cottage is linked to the main house by a garage, but it is self-contained and has its own heating system. On the ground floor, it has an open-plan lounge and kitchen, where there's a brick fireplace fitted with another stove.
There's also an ensuite bedroom on this level, with a walk-in wardrobe, while the second bedroom is on the first floor, also ensuite and with a dressing room. Apart from Bunratty folk village, the nearest village to the house is Cratloe, about five kilometres away across the Ratty River which is not, you'll be relieved to know, named after a rodent population.
Cratloe is famous for what's left of its woods, which supplied the oak that roofed the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, and for what is arguably one of the cutest churches in the whole country.
The late 18th century St John's Church in the village is extremely popular for weddings - Sharon Corr got married there in 2001.
Limerick City is less than 15 minutes' drive down the N18 and Shannon Airport is about 10k away.
Low Road, Bunratty, Co Clare
Asking price: €850,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald O'Donovan (061) 361905 and Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6300