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The Burren in the West of Ireland

Updated on January 2, 2015

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.

Galway nightlife
Galway nightlife


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

Stark Beauty - Limestone Pavements
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?

See results

The Fertile Rock: Seasons in the Burren

The Fertile Rock: Seasons in 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.


Burren Perfumery
Burren Perfumery
Perfumery shop
Perfumery shop

Cliffs of Moher DVD

Cliffs of Moher DVD - County Clare -  Ireland
Cliffs of Moher DVD - County Clare - Ireland

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.

The Wild Plants of the Burren & the Aran Islands: A Field Guide
The Wild Plants of the Burren & the Aran Islands: A Field Guide

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.


Burren Flora

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

The Burren and the Aran Islands: Exploring the Archaeology
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"

Poulnabrone Dolmen
Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen

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.

Pub in Doolin
Pub in Doolin

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.

Early-purple Orchid

Early-purple Orchid
Early-purple Orchid

See For Yourself - The Charm & The Beauty

Ireland's Whistling Ambassador

Ireland's Whistling Ambassador: Tin Whistle Music and Songs from Doolin, County Clare
Ireland's Whistling Ambassador: Tin Whistle Music and Songs from Doolin, County Clare

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.

Ballyvaughan Bay

Ballyvaughan Bay
Ballyvaughan Bay

Musical Session Down in Doolin

Down in Doolin
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

Ferns Grow in the Rock
Ferns Grow in the Rock

Some Great Irish Bands and Music - Top artists from Ireland

Orchids and Birdsfoot Trefoil

early purple orchids
early purple orchids

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

Sweater Shop, Doolin
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!

Dunguaire Castle - Near Kinvara

Dunguaire Castle
Dunguaire Castle

I Hope You Enjoyed the Trip

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    • Lynn Klobuchar profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 3 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      Haven't been but would love yi.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 4 years ago from Washington KS

      Visiting Ireland has been a lifelong dream. Since it's beginning to look like that won't happen, thank you for taking me to this magnificent place through your lens. Very well done!! This lens deserves to be Lens of the Day.

    • profile image

      MissMalaprop 4 years ago

      We went to Poulnabrone Dolmen on my recent trip to Ireland! I was totally enchanted by the landscape around it! It didn't hurt that we had an encounter with a cow strolling along the road on our drive there!

    • Travel Shepherd profile image

      Michael Shepherd 5 years ago from Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland

      Whoops, for my Quest I was supposed to start my comment with a High Five!

      I also liked your excellent mix of information and products.

    • Travel Shepherd profile image

      Michael Shepherd 5 years ago from Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland

      Yes, I have visited the Burren several times and will be going back. My heart belongs to West Cork, but west Co. Clare does have more highlights.

    • Northbright profile image

      Norbert Isles 6 years ago from Philippines

      I have included your lens in my new leans Health and Freedom - True Wealth For All . Hope you find time to visit it.

    • Northbright profile image

      Norbert Isles 6 years ago from Philippines

      Magnificent indeed! I would love to see these places, sit inside the pubs and listen for hours to Irish music and as you wrote simply savour the beauty around. Thank you so much.

    • SweetMarie83 LM profile image

      SweetMarie83 LM 6 years ago

      Beautiful lens! I love to read things about Ireland, it's a vicarious thrill until the day I finally get there! I didn't know much about the Burren - very interesting, thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      What a wonderfully arranged lens, with beautifully presented photographs. Thank you.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 8 years ago

      This is an excellent tribute to the Burren. 5*

      I visited there in 2008 and fell in love with the place.

      Lensrolled to

    • Lamarena profile image

      Lamarena 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens! The Burren is magnificent place. I've been there twice and absolutely loved it. 5*****

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 9 years ago

      Now I know why you love Ireland !!

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 9 years ago from England

      Great lens and SOOO informative! I've always wanted to go to Southern Ireland, now I want to go even more!! 5* :)

    • profile image

      Joan4 9 years ago

      Beautiful lens and well written. I would love to see the Burren. Fascinating!

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 9 years ago from Ireland

      Excellent lens! The area looks absolutely beautiful. 5* and favorite!

      Thanks for dropping by my Wine and Chocolate lens.

    • The-Bard profile image

      The-Bard 9 years ago

      A really super lens. 5*s. - Paul