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.
Craggaunowen recreates aspects of Ireland's past with the restoration and re-constructions of earlier forms of dwelling houses, farmsteads, hunting sites and other features of everyday life during the Pre-historic and Early Christian eras.
The concept 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. He then set about the restoration of the castle and began the construction of a modern museum display, including the reconstructed ‘crannog’ and ‘ring fort’. He eventually donated the site to the Irish people.
Craggaunowen 'The Living Past' experience tells the story of the arrival of the Celts in Ireland and the many changes they wrought upon daily life. Their impact is evidenced in the creation of new tribal lake dwellings, farming and hunting methods which are explained by the costumed animators.