- Travel and Places
The Burren in the West of Ireland
What is the Burren?
The Burren is a limestone plateau occupying an area of over one hundred square miles in North Clare in Southern Ireland.
It is an area of scenic attractions where the clear light, reflected from the stone-grey hills, seems to radiate an air of timelessness, which is made more realistic by the presence of the many prehistoric remains that dot the fields and the valleys beneath.
Here, the unfolding layers of limestone form terraces on the slopes of the hills - a limestone desert but with a quick-changing landscape. Within a few miles may be seen verdant valleys, bright, green hills thick with hazel and bramble, while the grey heights are relieved by streaks of coloured vegetation contained in the fissures and rock joints.
Photo: Burren Landscape, © 2012 Rob Hemphill
All images were taken or produced by Rob Hemphill, except where otherwise credited.
Irish: Boireann, meaning Great rock
Where is It?
Geology of the Burren
Created over 360 million years ago
The Burren was under a tropical ocean over 360 million years ago, the result being the area covered with limestone. It was the movement of tectonic plates which raised an area of this ancient seabed into a magnificent plateau that we now know as 'The Burren'.
The Ice Age ploughed through the area widening the river valleys and leaving behind boulder clay. It was after the Ice Age that the landscape went through periods of tundra and may have even been wooded. Evidence suggests that early settlers cut down the forest, and so allowed the soil to be eroded away.
Limestone is water soluble, so rainfall and ice caused erosion and resulted in parts of the surface dissolving, gradually creating the cracks and crevices (known as grykes) that create the pavement like surfaces (known as clints) which are a distinctive feature of the Burren.
As water penetrated below the surface limestone, it eventually met deeper harder rock which was not soluble and was forced to move sideways rather than down. This process created the massive system of caves and underground rivers which lies beneath much of the Burren today.
Centuries of weathering has produced a terrain of fissured limestone pavements, disappearing lakes, terraced mountains, and underground cave systems, the most famous of which is Aillwee Cave.
The Aillwee Cave - The cave is a fairly recent discovery
The Aillwee Cave is near Ballyvaughn, and is one of Irelands oldest caves, it would have been formed when the landscape of the burren was very different from what it is today.
Another cave is Pol an Ionain, near Ballynalackan, and to explore this cave you will have a low stoney crawl in water; however, the light at the end of the tunnel is a large chamber in which you will find a large stalactite hanging from the roof, and at 6.7 metres long - the longest in western Europe.
Can visitor numbers be sustained?
Tens of thousands of visitors travel to see this unique, and irreplaceable natural landscape every year. But environmentalists agree that the volume of visitor traffic is a cause for concern.
It has been designated as one of the Republic's six national parks and is valued as a national treasure. In recent times, there has been much local debate on how to ensure that tourism and farming can be carried on without harming the unique environment.
Stark Beauty - Limestone Pavements
Many visitors also take in the nearby Cliffs of Moher and Galway city, a trio of attractions which ensures a constant flow of tourists.
The cliffs rise from Doolin and ascend to over 700 feet (213 metres) just three miles south of the village of Doolin. Being almost vertical, their sheer drop into the heaving Atlantic ocean is a haven for sea birds.
Today the public is much more appreciative while the area's apparent aridity is now known to support a complex ecosystem. Botanically it is regarded as a wonder since it features, side by side, plants normally found in sub-Arctic areas together with those usually associated with the Mediterranean.
Is Tourism Beneficial?
Do you think Tourism is good for fragile areas like the Burren?
The Fertile Rock: Seasons in the Burren
Carsten Krieger is a professional photographer who fell in love with the West of Ireland in 1989, and moved there to live in 2001. His photographs are beautiful, and he clearly conveys that in this his first book. Conservation issues play an important part in his work.
The Burren Perfumery
Creates products inspired by the landscape and environment that surrounds it
The Perfumery is in Carron, Co. Clare approximately one hour driving time from Shannon or Galway. It was founded 35 years ago at the centre of a quiet valley in the heart of the Burren.
There are more than 700 species of flowering plants here, roughly three-quarters or Ireland's native flora. The flowers of the Burren inspired the original Perfumery fragrances: Man of Aran, Ilaun, Frond and Fraoch.
Visitors can view the distillation and soap making areas, visit the herb garden and organic tea rooms and, of course, try out Perfumery fragrances, creams, balms and other products.
Cliffs of Moher DVD
If you are planning a trip to Ireland or want to know more about the Cliffs of Moher, and the attractions in county Clare then this DVD is a good choice.
The Wild Plants of the Burren & the Aran Islands: A Field Guide
A souvenir field guide to flowers, fruits & ferns.
Charles Nelson's book, "Wild Plants of The Burren and the Aran Islands" gives readers a comprehensive reference on the floral life of this extraordinary region. 136 plants, each with detailed descriptions, locations and color photographs are included in this lovely book.
This is what the area is really known for
The flora of the Burren thrive in a number of distinct habitats: the grikes, gravel and grassland of the limestone pavement, turloughs, woodland & scrub, heathland, and coast & roadside areas.
When it comes to ecological wealth and diversity, the Burren has few parallels elsewhere in Ireland. It supports an enormous diversity of species in its orchid-rich limestone grasslands, heaths and pavements.
In terms of flora, the Burren is especially rich: Webb and Scannell (1983) recorded a total of 635 species from the Burren hills (345 square km), a remarkable tally representing over 70% of Ireland's 900 native species in less than 0.5% of its area!
Though the Burren does contain some much sought after rarities, its real ecological distinction relates to the abundant presence of several species which elsewhere are of very limited distribution.
Some particularly noteworthy features of the flora found in the Burren include the curious mixture of Arctic-Alpine and Mediterranean species, and calcicole (lime-loving) and calcifuge (lime-hating) species, as well as the wealth of orchids. The most interesting members of this rich flora are usually found on upland pastures, dominated by bare rock and thin, intermittent, rendzina soils, a highly stressful growing environment. A reflection of this is the very compact morphology or life form that many of these plants assume, and the high proportion of parasitic plants found among them.
An important factor contributing to the rich floral diversity of the Burren uplands is the traditional practice of grazing these uplands mainly in winter. This practice serves to remove potentially dominant grass and weed species, thus allowing the dormant herb flora sufficient light and resources to prosper over their flowering season, with little threat of being trampled by livestock.
The Burren And The Aran Islands: Exploring The Archaeology
"Should heighten knowledge and appreciation of the many fascinating pagan and Christian monuments in the alluring limestone landscape." Peter Harbison
What One of Cromwell's Generals Said of the Burren
Recounting its apparent emptiness:
"It is a country where
there is not water enough to drown a man,
wood enough to hang one,
nor earth enough to bury him"
The Poulnabrone Dolmen (in Irish it means "hole of the quern stones") is a portal tomb in the heart of the Burren. It dates back to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC to 2900 BC. It is situated just north of the village of Carran and 8 km (5 miles) south of Ballyvaughan (grid ref: 123 200).
The dolmen consists of a thin, slab-like, tabular capstone, which measures twelve feet, and is supported by two more slender portal stones, which hoist the capstone 1.8 m (6 ft) off the ground. The cairn would have helped to stabilize the tomb chamber, and would not have been any higher during the Neolithic.
In 1985, a crack was found in the eastern portal stone. In order to undertake reparations, the dolmen was dismantled, and the cracked stone replaced. Excavations at this time found that bodies had been buried (approx. 16-22 adults and 6 children) beneath the monument. Some personal items buried alongside the dead included quartz crystals, a bone pendant as well as pottery, a polished stone axe and other weapons.
It is thought that the tomb was a center for ceremonial and ritual rites until well into the Celtic period or perhaps it might have served as a territorial boundary marker in the Neolithic landscape.
Places of Interest
There is so much to do, even on rainy days!
The Cliffs of Moher
This is an extraordinary part of Ireland offering some of the most dramatic and impressive landscape in all of Europe. O'Brien's Tower, a C19 conceit is a 5 min walk away. You can see as far as the Aran Islands from the top of the tower. The cliffs ripple in waves along a 5-mile stretch of coast. They are up to 600 ft high.
This little village is world famous for traditional Irish folk music. (People say that backpackers from all over the world come to Dublin airport with no word of English except Doolin. They end up in the right place.) There is a pub called Gus O'Connor's that does good food very reasonably. You should book. They will provide music for you at no charge. There are a couple of small and attractive craft shops in the same street.
An annual Matchmakers Festival draws singles from all over the world during the month of September; this small village offers a quest for the romance holy grail to hordes of lonely souls - the capturing of an Irish heart. Ah, 'tis a prize indeed.
The Aran Islands
Located just off the west coast of the Burren. You can reach them by taking a day trip from Doolin.
See For Yourself - The Charm & The Beauty
Ireland's Whistling Ambassador
Having learned to play by ear under the influence of the concertina certainly shaped his playing in a way that it is completely distinguishable from any other whistle player. He is one of the few musicians who can effectively use the space between the notes in a musical way. His stories and the history of the tunes that he offers are all part of the show and just as touching as the music. After hearing this album, it is easy to see why this man was loved by his audiences across the world. From his whistling to the stomping of his foot in the background to his stories and songs, this album captures the essence of one of Ireland's greatest musicians.
A Few Facts About The Burren
~ The unusual geological formations of the region has lain unspoiled since the ice age and is composed of karstic limestone - the largest area of such in Western Europe.
~ It is an interesting place for botanists, archaeologists and ecologists alike and occupies an area of approximately 300 sq. kilometers.
~ The area itself is very bleak in appearance with little glacial soil. However is does have sufficient soil to grow a wide variety of the most unusual and rarest of plants.
~ There are relics of humans living here dating back almost 6000 years.
~ This area has some of the finest tombs in Ireland, if not in Western Europe.
~ The most famous is the vortal tomb, or portal dolman, at Poulnabrone.
~ In this area alone, there are more than 60 wedge tombs and the densest concentration in Ireland.
~ The Ailwee Caves were discovered in the 1940s and can be explored by visitors who will marvel at the magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Musical Session Down in Doolin
Liverpool HornpipeCoalminer ReelsSeamus Conolly's/Brid Harpur's Jigs48 Dogs MeathouseCharlie Lennon's/The Hut on Staten IslandTommy People's ReelsCoast of Austria/Timmy's ReelBallyvoe HornpipesJosephine Keegan's ReelsTerry Bingham's ReelsConnachtman's Rambles/A Kilfenoua JigNew Moon Meadow/The Dublin Reel/The SteanpacketMoving Cloud's
Irish Musical Instruments
You can even see Bodhrans being made in Connemara. The beautiful little village of Roundstone is home to this Irish drum.
Ferns Grow in the Rock
Some Great Irish Bands and Music - Top artists from Ireland
Orchids and Birdsfoot Trefoil
To Do List
Enjoy the Irish music in the pubs of Doolin
Take a boat trip to the Aran islands
Visit Lisdoonvarna's Matchmaker's Festival
But most of all savour the beauty all around
Sweater Shop, Doolin
Kinvara - The Burren is seen behind the town
Have you ever visited this part of Ireland, if so what did you think of it?
If you've never been here before, make sure that you spend some time in the Burren itself and not just ride through on a coach or car. There is so much to see but you have to look for it!