By Clodagh Kilcoyne
CLAREGALWAY, Ireland (Reuters) – Once the chief fortress of a powerful 15th century family descended from an English knight, the west of Ireland castle of Claregalway went back to its roots on Saturday.
The grounds of the fully restored Anglo-Norman era tower house were transformed into a medieval battlefield as hundreds of enthusiastic visitors, many from around the world, re-enacted full contact combat and games from centuries ago.
“It’s a nice weekend away and it’s something different,” said Denise Fitzgerald from County Kerry, who as the tavern owner for the weekend prepared food for the competitors by frying vegetables off in lard on a campfire.
“For me it’s like getting back to basics. I’ve been trying to do everything properly,” said the theatre worker, who was taking part in her first armoured combat festival.
On the field, fighters dressed head to toe in authentic chain-mail armour battled it out and while their swords may have been blunt, some left with dented helmets and one, a cut lip.
Others on horseback showed off their skills by slicing cabbages and aubergines in half while on the move. Nearby, metal smelters hammered weapons into shape, spice merchants prepared remedies and tradeswomen spun and dyed wool.
Deadly serious and exquisitely dressed, few dared to break character.
“Anyone can get dressed up but staying in character is an art form, I think,” said Helena Stackpoole, who as ‘Lady Eleanor Fitzgerald’ was putting her fashion design background to unique use.
“All the costumes are hand stitched. I have a belt here that I’m embroidering and it’s taken two years so far and the dress that I’m working on at the moment, the sleeves alone have 800 pearls hand sewn into them. I’m a bit serious about this,” she said.
(Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Helen Popper)