The Burren a mysterious Irish landscape
The Burren is a surreal landscape in County Clare full of the myths and legends of Ireland. Discover the glorious UNESCO Burren and see the magic hidden inside this glorious landscape.
The name Burren means “great rock” Boireann is Irish Gaelic. Located in Northwestern County Clare it covers between 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi) and 560 square kilometres (220 sq mi). The main area of the Burren circles the villages of Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan, Kilfenora, Tubber, Corofin and down into Kinvara in Galway.
What is the Burren made of?
The Burren is a karst landscape which means it is an area of land made up of limestone. Limestone is a soft rock that dissolves in water or in Ireland’s case rain and the Atlantic Ocean. A karst landscape is worn away from the top of the rocks or from underneath as in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula where the limestone is worn away to create cenotes or underground lakes. In the Burren, the karst has worn away to flat moon-like rocks with caves, underground streams and the folds and cracks you see in the surfaces of the Burren.
A karst landscape is a lesson in geology as it contains dolines and poljes which are enclosed depressions, deep gorges, dry valleys and disappearing lakes known as turloughs. These run alongside hundreds of kilometres of caves, drumlins and moraines.
What to see in the Burren
The Great Stalactite
The Burren is home to NW Europe’s longest stalactite – the 7m long ‘Great Stalactite’ in Doolin Cave. The Great Stalactite at 7.3 metres (23feet) it is the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe.
The Ailwee Caves
One of the oldest caves in Ireland The Ailwee Caves are the best known of the many cave systems in the Burren. Glencurran cave near the village of Carran was recently excavated and turned up many finds from the Bronze age onwards. The caves can be found in the heart of the Burren about 40 minutes from Galway.
There is a tour of the Caves with an expert guide which takes around 30 minutes the tour encompasses chasms, a roaring waterfall and a silent frozen one. You will see stalactites and stalagmites and even some extinct brown bear bones.
Ailwee Cheese & Fudge Shop
Definitely, a hidden gem The Farmshop at Aillwee allows you to watch the Burren Gold Cheese being made. This is a Gouda style cheese and a member of the team will walk you through the cheese-making process and tell you the story of the cheese being made here.
You should also treat yourself to some of the homemade fudge it is to die for. You can also take home some unique honey produced by the native Irish Black bee that sips nectar from the Burren’s wild flowers.
The Burren Perfumery is a small scale family business using locally produced herbs and ingredients. The Organic Herb Garden was planted in 1999 and is used for both the products and to teach visitors traditional Irish uses of the locally grown herbs and florals grown in the Burren.
Pick up some of the incredible personal products made here from the wonderful perfumes to the organic creams and lotions you won’t be disappointed. You can also relax in the Tea Rooms where you will see a selection of organic scones, cakes, and lunches all made with locally grown or made products and ingredients.
The Burren Smokehouse
If you love your smoked salmon you have to make a stop at the Burren Smokehouse tasting room. It’s just a short drive from the Cliffs of Moher and it is here you can learn the secrets of salmon smoking and get to taste it and buy some to take or send home.
Turlough Mountain Cairns
Turlough Mountain contains several large stone mounds like those at Newgrange that are believed to be Neolithic. These cairns are found on Sliabhcarran, Turlough Mountain and Blackhead on the northern edge of the Burren. The large cairn on Turlough Mountain is surrounded by a collection of some 160 round hut foundations, quite similar to those in Sligo.
Turlough Mountain has a large settlement site, possibly a stone-age village of some 100 huts. Not far east of the huts is a huge circular hillfort, which may also date from the Neolithic era.
One of the most well known of Ireland’s stone cairns Poulnabrone which means the “hole of sorrow” is one of the 10 dolmens that has been excavated and was found to contain the remains of 21 people.
Poulawack can be found to the north of Poulnabrone and was excavated in 1934. The burials at Poulawack date back over 2000 years.
Cahercumeen Stone Fort
Cahercumeen, a Bronze or Iron age stone fort can be seen near the centre of the Burren. Surrounding the fort are hut sites a medieval field systems and it is believed that the site was lived in until the 16th century.
Church Ruins & high crosses
One of three ruined churches can be found at Oughtmama on the edge of the Burren. There are also several early Christian sites in the area which include the high crosses at Kilfenora and you will often pass a holy well or a ruined church when walking the Burren.
Saint Tola’s Cross at Dysert O’Dea
Be careful when attempting to see the Saint Tola cross close up as there is often a bull present in the field. The easiest way to visit is from the Dysert O’Dea Castle.
The east face of the cross is dominated by two high relief figures. There is a depiction of the crucifixion, a Bishop who it is believed represents the founder of the monastery of St. Tola. The various carvings depict the founding of the Church, Danial in the Lions Den and loral designs with an Adam and Eve Carving.
Dysert O’Dea Castle
The Clare Archaeology Centre is located at the Castle and is surrounded by 25 original archaeological field monuments including St. Tola’s Cross. There is a gift shop and you can find really interesting day tours put on by the team here.
The authentically restored 15th century Dysert O’Dea castle, was originally the stronghold of the O’Dea clan.
Dysert O’Dea Church
The church which stands on the site of an early Christian monastery dates mainly from the 12th century. Its most famous feature is the Romanesque Doorway. Near the church’s northwestern corner stands the remains of a Round Tower.
Burren Farm Experience
Looking at the lunar landscape of the Burren you would be hard-pressed to understand how they farm here but farm they do. The wide valleys and uplands of the Burren hide fertile grasslands that are perfect grazing for beef and lamb.
Explore Cathal O’Rourke, a fifth-generation farmer and his wife Bronagh, a regional eco-tour guide, to working family farm in the Burren. Learn about the ancient farming practice of transhumance which is the seasonal movement of livestock (such as sheep) between mountain and lowland pastures either under the care of herders or in company with the owners that helps conserve and protect the landscape.
Lisdoonvarna & the Matchmaking Festival
Lisdoonvarna can be found on the southern edge of the Burren and it the nineteenth century it became a well-known health resort famous for its spa well water. It is also home to one of Europe’s largest matchmaking festivals.
The Lisdoonvarna Festival takes place over a period of one month and includes entertainment, singing, traditional music sessions, dancing, and lots of parties. Singles from 18 to 80 can take part in the daily matchmaking and meet the world-famous Willy Daly at the Matchmaker Bar.
One of the most photographed and Instagrammed places in Ireland Doolin lies on the south-western extremity of the Burren and is internationally renowned as a centre of live Irish music, played in its many hugely popular pubs. It is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages.
Blackhead Looped walk
The Blackhead loop crosses through the Gleninagh Pass, and into Feenagh Valley along the shoulder of Cappanwalla mountain and it is a 15.2-mile loop trail. The walk encompasses some of the finest views of the Burren and the Atlantic to be found on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Murroghtoohy Viewpoint is found on the coast road between Ballyvaughan and Fanore a stunning spot for photos of the ocean and you may even catch some wild goats on film as well.
Traditions & Culture of the Burren
With its long standing ancient traditions as a centre of learning the Burren shelters the remains of Cahermacnaughten and the ancient Brehon Law School. Today this school would have been considered a Yale or Harvard and in Ireland it was that up until the 17th century.
The ancient school owned one of the largest collections of early Irish legal texts the most famous of which the Egerton MS 88 is held in the British Museum. Egerton MS 88 was produced by the family O’Davorens who were lawyers in Cormcomroe, Clare. The manuscript was created between 1564 and 1569 and it is a collection of medieval Irish legal texts.
The Burren is where the Four Masters came for the seal of approval from the ollaimhe (historians) at their Kilkeedy School, and where the Bardic School of Ó Dálaigh in Finavarra was held.
Under the old Brehon system of society, such was the respect for learning that the ollamh or professor, held equal rank to a king or bishop.
The Burren and the Great Famine
Clare was badly scarred by the Great Irish Famine of the mid-nineteenth century and almost 50,000 people died of the famine combined with disease. Nearly 40,000 of those died in the workhouses with the Ennistymon being the most notorious. The workhouse was torn down and only a ruined ugly chapel remains on the site.
Another 40,000 fled Clare ending up on the coffin ships headed to the New World.
Where to stay in the Burren
Fermoyle Farm House Stay
Fermoyle farmhouse is a 350-year-old Irish cottage self-catering farmhouse stay. With 3 bedrooms that sleeps 6. On the property, there are paths up to the mountain, animals to see, and old stone houses abandoned in the famine times, to name a few.
Flaggy Shore Lodge
The tranquil and unique location of this property in the northern corner of the Burren, on the edge of the Atlantic, makes it an ideal retreat from the busy world. Relax in the living room or the sunroom and watch the sunset over Galway Bay. This bright, spacious single-storey holiday home is an ideal location for an enjoyable holiday. It is situated in the Burren with its rare flora, overlooking the famous Flaggy Shore, where limestone platforms reach out into the sea and where there are uninterrupted views over Galway Bay.
O’Neils in the Burren
A 3 star, Ecofriendly B&B established over 100 years ago. The character of the old family home has been retained and a warm welcome awaits all guests. All bedrooms are en suite and offer you comfort and cleanliness. Televisions are installed in all rooms. Single rooms are a perfect resting place for the lone traveller. The breakfast menu offers a variety of choices of freshly cooked local produce, home-baked brown bread and freshly brewed coffee or tea.
A lovely 2 – bedroom modernized traditional cottage located 10 minutes walk from Lisdoonvarna. There is a large kitchen, a living room, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a shower room. Accomodates 5 guests comfortably – 2 double beds and a sofa bed. The house is just a 15 minute drive to the Cliffs of Moher and 15 minute drive to the Ailwee Cave. Ideal base for walking, cycling or touring the Burren and The Wild Atlantic Way. Pony trekking nearby. Surfing in Lahinch (15/20 minute drive).
Rathbaun Hotel is the most renowned hotel in Co. Clare for live Irish Music at 19.30 hrs. June – August. Quality Accommodation Freshly cooked breakfast 8.00 hrs. to 12.00 noon. Delicious homecooked food, reasonably priced, full menu until 23.00 hrs. Illy coffee, creamy pints of Guinness, delicious seafood chowder. 60 years experience of the Burren.
Don’t skip the Burren when you next visit Ireland this otherworldly landscape is a treasure trove of history and its views will stay in your mind forever.
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