Butler of Bunratty hangs up his tights

HE has, over the last three decades, entertained an estimated one million people who dined at one of the country’s top visitor attractions.

And after 25 years of unbroken service, senior Bunratty Castle entertainer Noel Murphy has bid an emotional farewell, bringing the curtain down on a remarkable career.

“I will miss it terribly,” said Noel, who has since the early ’80s donned tights and medieval shawl to play the key role of butler to the Earl of Thomond at the renowned Bunratty Castle medieval banquets.

Noel describes his role as a combination of maître d’ and compere as he led banquet festivities, introducing other castle entertainers. He became so well known that, at one stage, he was named in Social and Personal society magazine’s list of the top 100 best legs in the country. He was the only man on the list of 98 women and the racehorse, Istrabraq.

But he’s giving his legs a rest and putting his feet up after his last performance on Saturday night.

“Apart from the longevity of the years, it has been much more than a job. It has been part of my life,” Noel said. “My colleagues are more like my extended family. It was a joy, every day of my life, going in to perform. It was what I was meant to do, trained to do.

“We had the opportunity to bring joy to people’s lives and to see the feedback from audiences. And I’ve made friends all over the world.”

Noel, who turns 66 on December 21, was born in Turner’s Cross in Cork and trained with James Stack at the Cork School of Music before treading the boards with the city’s renowned Loft Shakespearean Theatre Company.

He joined the Shannon Heritage-managed castle banqueting entertainment team in the early 1970s, performing at Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara and Knappogue Castle.

But he left to pursue other interests, including a stint with the RTÉ Players, featuring in several radio dramas. He was also cast in the children’s TV film, Flight of the Doves, in 1971.

It was during his time in Dublin that Noel met and married Nuala Mitchell, from Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, who went with him when he rejoined the castle entertainers in 1981.

Tragically, Nuala died aged just 37, and the couple’s only son, Conor, died some years later.

Noel praised his colleagues for their support during those difficult years.

“They were a wonderful support – very understanding and very caring,” he said. “Because of my personal circumstances, my friends and colleagues have filled in a huge gap in my life. But you have to pick up the pieces and get on with life and perform. We are in the business of entertainment and selling joy.”

Noel said the banquet audience has changed in recent years, from the North American guest to a more diversified and younger European audience. And he has also seen numbers decline in line with the overall decline in visitor numbers to Ireland.

But, he said, castle management have consolidated their operations in the flagship Bunratty Castle venue, ensuring that the entertainers play to packed banquet halls every night.

“If you came in here any night, you would say: ‘What recession?’” he said.

He plans to enjoy his retirement, kicking it off with a lengthy holiday in Australia where he will stay with his brother Frank.

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