Bunratty Castle Medieval Collection, Gort Furniture Collection

You are here : Introduction

Gort Medieval Collection at Bunratty

Introduction to collection

Bunratty Castle, County Clare has had a dramatic and turbulent history. First built back in the 13th Century, it has changed hands many times, usually violently, during the many periods of friction between the native Irish of Thomond and the Norman and Anglo-Norman intruders. The Castle has been destroyed at least eight or nine times over its 800-year history. Today, the castle stands peacefully in delightful grounds, the houses and cottages of the folk park spread out at the foot of its massive walls, much in the way that the cottages and crofts of old would have clustered around its base.

Bunratty Castle was in ruins in the mid 20th century and was in danger of being demolished for stone. Viscount Gort, a mediaevalist bought the castle in 1953 for a nominal sum, saving it for posterity. Encouraged by a small group of individuals, including the archaeologist John Hunt, they set about returning the castle to its former splendour.

Lord and Lady Gort had always been deeply interested in early furniture and works of art. Over the years they, together with John Hunt endowed the castle with a splendid collection of early furniture and works of art to re- create the atmosphere of the early centuries of the castle. Bunratty Castle and its contents are now held in trust for the Nation. Those who visit the Castle will appreciate the measure of the nation's indebtedness to Lord and Lady Gort and John and Gertrude Hunt.

The collections of artifacts in Bunratty Castle are protected by the Gort Furniture Trust and are managed on a daily basis by Shannon Heritage, a subsidiary company of Shannon Development. The Castle welcomes thousands of visitors daily all year round and also provides the unique location for the world renowned Bunratty Banquets, which take, place in the Castle nightly all year round.

This website is a result of much detailed work aimed at providing access to the collection to a much wider audience than ever before. Mr Brian O Connell, Chairman of Shannon Heritage who invested much energy and enthusiasm into this project, identified the need for access to a wider audience. The project is fully supported by both the Boards of Shannon Heritage and Shannon Development and the Trustees of Bunratty Castle. The detailed work of collecting the data and presenting it in a coherent way was the work of Lorna Moloney, Medieval Historian, visiting faculty at the Department of History at the University of Limerick and Director of Merriman Historical Research. The technical work both on Photography and bringing all the information onto the website was that of Copper Reed design in Limerick, and Gary Mc Mahon in particular.

Please note that the exercise of collecting provenance information is an ongoing task and this information will be added to the website as and when it is assimilated. We very much hope that you enjoy the collection that we have presented on this website and would welcome any comments that you have to the following website ruddlej@shannondev.ie

John Ruddle
Chief Executive Officer
Shannon Heritage, Bunratty

Lest we forget our benefactor

Like so many of the great cultural collections in museums and galleries around the world the Gort Furniture Collection at Bunratty Castle mainly owes its existence to the generosity of a great benefactor. In this case the benefactor was Lord Gort, or to give him his full title the Honourable Standish Robert Gage Prendergast Vereker M.C., the 7thViscount Gort. He had inherited the title in 1946 from his more famous brother, Field Marshall Gort, known as the "Hero of Dunkirk" from his time as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940.

For centuries the Vereker family had extensive ties throughout the mid-west region of Ireland. Colonel Vereker, on being created the first Viscount Gort in 1816 had taken the name of his title from the town of Gort on the Galway/Clare border. The family seat was located just outside Gort at Lough Cutra Castle until the ravages of the famine had forced the sale of the estate in 1849. Several of the Verekers were prominent in the life of Limerick particularly in the mid- nineteenth century with no less than six of the family serving a total of ten terms as Mayors of Limerick City.

With guidance and advice from the internationally renowned experts on medieval art, John and Putzel Hunt, Gort re-acquired the family estate at Lough Cutra in 1952 and shortly afterwards purchased Bunratty Castle. In conjunction with the Office of Public Works and Bord Failte and again working closely with John Hunt as his main advisor, Lord Gort set about restoring the National Monument that was Bunratty Castle as a place where the public could enjoy a sense of life in the castle as it was in medieval times.

In parallel with the work of restoring the castle, Gort and Hunt also set about filling its rooms with, the furniture, artworks and everyday objects of the era when the castle was the home of the McNamara and O'Brien chieftains. In the setting at Bunratty Castle this extensive collection, sourced mainly from continental Europe, now constitutes the most extensive showcase anywhere in Ireland of the late medieval and early renaissance period.

Far too often the generosity of donors of cultural collections can tend to be overlooked. When viewing the Gort Furniture Collection it is important to remember that the time and effort involved in sourcing the collection was a labour of love to Lord Gort, whereby he could create something of lasting value that could be handed on as a gift to the land of his forbears. A further manifestation of his generosity was that the cost of acquiring the various items in the Collection was borne almost entirely by Lord Gort himself.

Brian O Connell
Shannon Heritage