The Living Past Experience

A highlight of any visit to Ireland is the Living Past Experience. It is off the beaten track and will give you a real sense of stepping back in time. The many paths of Craggaunowen have something of interest to adults and children alike. Explore the grounds and you may even meet some Bronze Age animals, our wild boar and soay sheep! We hope you’ll enjoy the Living Past Experience as much as we do.

Crannog – lake dwelling

At Craggaunowen you gain a fascinating insight into how the Celts made their homes on a Crannog (meaning 'young tree’), a reconstructed lake-dwelling or artificial island on which people built houses, kept animals, and lived in relative security from enemy clans or invaders. Crannogs were found in Ireland during the Iron Age and early Christian periods. Though some homesteads were inhabited during the Late Bronze Age and in some cases were still being occupied as late as the 17th century.

Crannogs were constructed by placing layers of stone, brushwood, tree trunks and even, old dugout canoes, on the lakebed. These were held together by wooden pilings and the platform was covered with a layer of earth or sand. On this the inhabitants built their thatched houses of wattles and mud and surrounded themselves with a protective timber fence.

These artificial islands were generally approached by dugout canoes or by various types of causeways or bridges.  You can view an original dugout canoe yourself and imagine that precarious journey across the lake!!

This film was produced by the Faculty of Arts at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. For further information please visit

The Brendan Boat

Another important attraction at Craggaunowen is the 'Brendan Boat', the hide boat in which Tim Severin sailed from Ireland to the United States, re-enacting the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator, reputed to have discovered America centuries before Columbus.

St. Brendan the Navigator (who died c. 583 AD.) was, according to a 9th century manuscript, “The Navigacio”, the first man to discover the 'Promised Land' across the Atlantic. This place he called High Basil and it first came to him a dream.

In 1976 Tim Severin, a modern day explorer, built a leather-hulled boat based on the vessel described in the manuscript, and on the Currach still used on Ireland's West Coast. He and his crew then made the voyage with stops on the Aran Islands, in Donegal, the Hebrides and in the Faroes, over-wintering in Iceland, and proved it was possible for St. Brendan to have made the voyage to America in such a craft.  The actual boat used in this endeavor is on display in a specially constructed glass boathouse, reminiscent of a glacier.  You’ll wonder how St. Brendan survived that arduous journey all those years ago.  

Ring Fort

Craggaunowen  includes a Ring Fort, a true reproduction of a farmer's house, dating from the 4th or 5th century. Ring forts, of which there are about 40,000 examples throughout Ireland, were the standard type of farmstead during the early Christian Period (5th -12th centuries AD).

The contemporaries of the people living in Ring forts produced the magnificent artefacts of the Golden Age - the Ardagh Chalice, the Tara Brooch, the Book of Kells, the Derrynaflan Hoard and many other masterpieces.

The Souterrain

Souterrain (below ground) or underground passages designed primarily as food storage areas, were ventilated, but draft free. They maintain a constant temperature of around 4 degrees no matter how hot it gets on the surface. They could also be used as places of refuge during attacks on the Ring Fort, many souterrain have secondary or tertiary chambers which are difficult to enter, thereby affording their occupants a measure of security. Kids, big and small, just love them!

Fulacht Fia

This reconstructed cooking site was common throughout the country. Hunting parties used them over a long period of time, from the early Bronze Age to the Elizabethan period. A rectangular hole was dug in low-lying land where it was sure to fill with water. This was clad on the four sides with wooden sections. Stones heated on the campfire were then used to boil the water in the wooden trough. A joint of venison was then wrapped in straw and put into the boiling water and cooked for a set period.

Craggaunowen Castle

Craggaunowen Castle was built by John MacSioda MacNamara in 1550 a descendant of Sioda MacNamara who built Knappogue Castle in 1467. It is a typical example of a fortified Tower House, which was the ordinary residence of the gentry at the time. After the collapse of the Gaelic Order, in the 17th century, the castle was left roofless and uninhabitable.

The restoration work was completed in 1965 by John Hunt, who added the extension to the ground floor where part of his collection of antiquities containing many medieval objects were exhibited. The entire exhibition now resides in the Hunt Museum in Limerick City.

Togher – Iron Age Road

This Iron Age wooden track or Togher was originally laid in 148AD. It was excavated in 1975 at Corlea Bog, Co. Longford and a section of it was then moved to here for study and display.  

In some places, transport was a major problem during the Iron Age. Near the sea or rivers, skin covered boats or dug-out canoes made travel easy. In order to reach areas far from waterways it was necessary to travel through the heavily wooded or bog covered countryside. Occasionally to connect two important sites or places, wooden roadways were built across bogs or marshes. These were made by placing runners of birch or alder on the surface and covering them with large oak planks to make a road.

The Hunt Connection

The concept for Craggaunowen was the idea of the late John Hunt, who was an advisor to Sotheby's on Medieval Art and was, described by the art magazine The Connoisseur as "one of the best medievalists in Europe". John Hunt bought the land at Craggaunowen following his excavation of Lough Gur, Co Limerick. He then set about the restoration of the castle and began the construction of an open air style museum including the reconstructed ‘crannog’ and ‘ring fort’. He generously donated the site to the Irish people.

Now that you have learned about the Living Past Experience, why not come and see for yourself… Book tickets for the Living Past Experience.

If you enjoyed reading about Craggaunowen and want to know more about the history of the Shannon Region, find out about our new visitor centre in King John’s Castle.