A spicy, warming soup brimming with parsnips, veggies, and apple makes for a filling lunch or supper - especially on a chilly day! A medieval castle dinner in Bunratty, Ireland inspired this delicious Curried Parsnip Soup.
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The Ireland adventure was winding to a close!
Our final city: Bunratty
After spending the afternoon in Limerick, shopping, getting tattooed (my sister did that!) and having some toasties, we drove to Bunratty (Bun na Raite). Our mom strategically chose this B&B location: only a 15 minute drive away from Shannon International Airport where we needed to be early the next morning.
The main attraction listed in all our Ireland books for Bunratty was the 15th century Bunratty Castle, so we checked it out. Somehow in our trip we had not yet set foot in an Irish castle! The only problem: the castle tour closed at 4:00 pm and we realized we'd be cutting it very close after our late departure from Limerick.
We sped along to Bunratty and straight to the castle, quite an imposing site soaring up from the grounds that run right alongside an area of shops and parking lots. The 15th century castle was first a Viking trading camp, then a wood fortress, then a stone castle that was destroyed in the 1300s. The castle was home to McNamara and O'Brien clans before spending a couple centuries in British possession. It's been open to the public and hosting medieval-style banquets since the 1960s.
Once inside the guide at the desk confirmed that the castle grounds were indeed closing. What she did offer though, were seats at the Medieval Banquet to be held inside the castle later than evening. (My Rick Steves guide to Ireland mentioned this feast.)
A medieval dinner. Would it be campy and silly, like something out of a Jim Carrey movie? ("There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times.") We had no way of knowing. But since we had no dinner plans and wanted to stick close by we figured we'd give it a go?
After getting our tickets, we wandered the grounds of the castle even though it was closing up. The grounds are like a small theme park of a 19th century village around the castle, with main street shops, livestock, homes, and walled gardens.
When open, each of the buildings features demonstrations of the jobs and crafts of the time...
...but we just settled for peeking into windows.
We did find one errant little pygmy goat that escaped his pen. (A low, stone wall is all there is to contain the goats, so escapes must happen pretty often!) He followed us around for a bit. At one point he hopped up on the stone wall of the goat pen and I was able to (very gently) nudge him back in.
Dunaree Bed and Breakfast
After touring the grounds we had time to head to the Dunaree B&B, just a stone's throw down the road. It is a very cheerful and comfortable home, and the owners Penny and Kevin were very sweet and kind. (It seems everyone we met in Ireland fit this description!)
Before dinner we had the tricky and frustrating task of fitting all our stuff back into our suitcases. (I regretted the decision not to ship the Irish wool sweaters I bought in Inishmore!)
The hurleys we bought in Limerick were particularly challenging: they were too long to fit in our suitcases. In a panic I called American Airlines and a representative with a thick French accent said they'd be fine to go on the plane as carry-ons. I trusted his French word, even though a little voice in my head said it seemed too good to be true. (A little foreshadowing of strife ahead!)
A medieval banquet
Once back at Bunratty Castle for our medieval dinner, we joined a hundred or so guests slowly entering through the gates. Music grew louder as we approached the courtyard, and soon a kilted bagpiper came into view.
He played under a tall arch cut into the side of the castle, and it gave me the chills to hear the music reverberating off the towering stone walls. Have a listen!
Talk about setting the mood!
A steep, winding staircase led us into the Great Hall, a vast space with white-washed walls, a vaulted ceiling with dark wood timbers, and carved figureheads at the base of the beams.
After purchasing and restoring the castle in the 1950s, Lord Standish Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort furnished the castle with his own extensive collection of antiques, including these 600-year old tapestries that hang in the Great Hall.
Upon entering the hall we received small vessels of mead from the ladies of the manor.
It was period garb as far as the eye could see: long gowns and headdresses for the women, colorful tunics and stockings for men. We stood along the perimeter of the hall listening to a violin and harp performance in the center of the room.
After a greeting and song we entered the Main Guard, a cozy space with a Minstrel's Galley dimly lit with tall candles on long tables. This is where we would soon begin our feast.
On the table were red and white wines ("jugs on the table full to the brim", as one of the songs goes!) and we sat shoulder to shoulder with other diners. This made it very easy to keep the wine flowing into everyone's cups!
I met Teresa and Pat from Binghamton, New York who were visiting Ireland with their brother. Across from my mother and sister sat a couple from Toronto, and unfortunately I could not hear their names over the boisterous, wine-fueled conversation in the room.
This Canadian husband and wife were funny and quite animated. When they learned I would be writing about the trip the wife stole my camera from me to snap photos as I ate! And speaking of eating...
Our first course at the banquet was a spicy, pureed vegetable soup. No spoons of course, we just had to drink it! It was very tasty, with a fair amount of heat from curry in the broth.
Our second course was a huge platter of sumptuous, sticky, heavily sauced spareribs. We did get a utensil for the ribs - a dagger! We got very barbaric gnawing on the ribs and licking our fingers, chucking the bones into a large bowl. And my hands were way too messy to get any photos of those ribs.
For the third course: a more civilized-looking platter of pan-fried chicken, steamed veggies, and roasted baby potatoes.
All through dinner we had entertainment. The lords and ladies gave us a tale of a "scoundrel" in our midst (a poor guy plucked from the audience,) accused of getting frisky with the ladies. He was sent to the dungeon. (He later escaped by humiliating himself, by singing a Taylor Swift song for the room.)
During our dessert course we heard beautiful, minstrel ballads and a rousing tune from the violinist that had us all clapping in time as he moved around the room.
Our dessert served in individual ramekins (we had spoons for this one) consisted of a crunchy, spiced cookie base topped with tender, cooked apples and then a layer of cheesecake.
Here's a snippet of one the sweet folk song we heard during dessert.
The evening was so much fun, and such a merry way to end our Ireland trip.
Beautiful music, amazing food, the intimate and enchanting atmosphere of the castle and entertainment courtesy of its lords and ladies. The experience was completely unplanned and unanticipated, which made it even more exciting and special!
The next morning saw us up early, and our Dunaree host Penny quickly cooked up a breakfast for us before we set off to Shannon Airport. We walked through the airport pushing a trolley of suitcases with those suitcase-defying hurleys in our hands. We couldn't pretend not to see the surprised stares of people that we passed. (Hurleys are a little startling, I admit.)
I began to grow uneasy about presenting them for judgment at the ticket counter.
Sure enough when we tried to check in, the American Airlines manager flatly told us that we could not bring them on our flight. (And he didn't care what we were told on the phone. That little voice in my head had been right.) "They're weapons!", he snorted.
That left us frantically trying to decide whether to leave the hurleys in Ireland, or pay an arm and a leg to check them as additional luggage. Finally a sympathetic attendant told us just to zip them into our suitcases with the handles sticking out.
We watched our bags ride away on the conveyor, each with a foot of wooden handle poking out, and felt very doubtful that the sticks would survive the trip back to the states.
The flights were fine, though melancholy as we watched Ireland disappear behind us through the tiny windows. I should have slept during the long first flight but instead watched Avengers: Infinity War and the mindless shows that followed, like Jay Leno's Garage and Top Chef Junior.
12 hours of flights and airports later, we were back in Albany, New York. We dragged our suitcases off the conveyor in the baggage claim area and made a thrilling discovery: our hurleys were intact! Our suitcases holding had obviously been searched by TSA officials. Not terribly surprising. ("Weapons!")
Oh well. They didn't steal any of my Irish candy bars, wool sweaters or my jar of whiskey jam, so it's cool. Exhausted, we found our way to the car and tried to re-acclimate to driving on the right side of the road!
Reflecting on our Ireland adventure
It's not easy for me to tidily sum up this trip to Ireland, that took five posts and over 7,000 words to share. All I can say is that it was incredible, beautiful, and life-changing. Ireland is just as gorgeous and breath-taking as you've heard it is, and the folks we met from Donegal to Dingle to Dublin treated us like family.
My mother, sister and I saw and experienced so much, and yet there is so much we didn't see. We could fill weeks upon weeks with more excursions and exploration.
If you have the chance to go to Ireland seize it, and I hope you are lucky enough to go with folks who love you and trust you enough to let you try driving there!
The time I spent with my mom and little sister... I absolutely loved it, and I will always cherish the memories we made! ♥
Curried Parsnip Soup, and why you'll love it
My Ireland-inspired recipe for this post is a yummy and warming Curried Parsnip Soup.
It's a creamy soup that's so full of flavor. There's a lovely balance of spiciness from the curry and sweetness from the parsnips and apples. It's a perfect way to enjoy veggies harvested from your garden, or to warm yourself up on a chilly night.
🔪 How to make this recipe
Step 1: Prepare the veggies
Peel the parsnips and the apples. Dice the apples and the other vegetables into small pieces. Cut the parsnips into small slices.
Step 2: Sauté the veggies and spices
Heat up some oil and add the diced vegetables and apple to the pot, along with the spices.
Step 3: Add the liquid
Add the sliced parsnips and water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer the soup until the parsnips are tender.
Step 4: Puree and finish the soup
Use a blender or an immersion blender to blend the soup until it's smooth and creamy. Add the last of the spices and simmer the soup for a few minutes more. Serve it while it's hot.
Find the recipe below, and here are more Ireland-inspired dishes:
💬 How do you like this soup? Have any Ireland adventures to share? Leave a comment below!
Curried Parsnip Soup
- 11 ounces shallots (about 8 shallots)
- 5 cloves garlic (about 1.15 ounces)
- 8 ounces celery (3 ribs)
- 2 medium McInstosh apples (about 9 ounces)
- 1¼ pounds parsnips
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2½ tablespoons curry powder, divided
- 2½ teaspoons salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 cups water
Prepare the vegetables:
- Dice the shallots, garlic, and celery. Peel and core the apples, then slice them into small pieces.
- Peel the parsnips and then slice them into small pieces, about 1-inch sized pieces. Set the cut parsnips aside.
Cook the veggies:
- Heat the olive oil in a large soup or stock pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add in the diced shallots, garlic, celery and apple. Stir to coat everything in oil. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the curry powder, 2 teaspoons of the salt and the black pepper. Stir the spices into the mixture. Sauté everything for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables and apple are soft.
- Add the water and cut parsnips to the pot, stir, and raise the heat to high. Bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the soup at a simmer. Keep the soup simmering for about 10 minutes until the parsnips are very soft. Remove the pot from the heat.
Blend the soup
- Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot, until the soup is very smooth. A blender can also be used to purée the soup - just remove the small cap from the lid and cover the hole with a clean dish towel, to let steam vent out as you process it.
- Once the soup is puréed in the pot add in the remaining ½ tablespoon of curry, ½ teaspoon of salt and the black pepper. Stir and simmer the soup over medium heat for about 5 minutes more and then remove it from the heat.
- Serve the soup immediately. It is delicious with a slice of buttered Brown Bread! Once cooled the soup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Use a regular blender or an immersion blender to puree this soup.