Exploring the Burren Ireland

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 jaw-dropping landscape.

Tourists standing at the edge of the moonscape known as the Burren in Ireland

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.

Part of the Burren forms the Burren National Park which is the smallest of Ireland’s six national parks. The full area of the Burren is encompassed by the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark.

What is the Burren?

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.

The edge of the moonscape known as the Burren in Ireland made from Karst and it looks like a lava flow or an outer space landscapre

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.

Exploring the Burren

What to see in the Burren

The Burren Eco Tourism Network

The Burren Ecotourism Network has more than 70 members, which include well-known tourist attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Ailwee Caves. Over the past decade, the project has been recognized extensively nationally and internationally for its pioneering approach to sustainable tourism development. For example, the network was awarded Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel for Community Tourism 2021. 

Exploring 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) is the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren

 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.

Burren Food Trail

Launched by the Burren Ecotourism Network in partnership with the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark in 2013, the Burren Food Trail connects growers, producers, artisans, retailers, chefs, and restaurateurs who then work together to promote their destination as a whole.

The Burren Food Trail has also led to the emergence of a new food festival, the Burren Food Fayre which is part of the Burren Winterage Weekend.  This festival is a celebration of local food by local people and includes events such as cookery demos, book launches, competitions, foraging walks, and much more.

Some of the Burren Food Trail Members are Ballyvaughan Farmers Market, Burren Brewery, Burren Fine Wine and Foods, Burren Free Range Pork Farm, Burren Gold Cheese at Aillwee Cave, Burren Smokehouse, St Tola Goat Farm, Wild Kitchen, Market House Ennistymon, and more.

Exploring the Burren

St. Tola Goat Cheese

St. Tola cheeses are handmade cheeses, to which no additives or preservatives have been added. Our cheeses are like living organisms and as they mature they become more distinctive in flavor.

Exploring the Burren

The Burren Brewery

In spring 2011, Peter Curtin embarked on a new endeavour: He set up the Burren Brewery in the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna. The building, which in 1865 started off as a pub, then was expanded into a bakery, now also harbours a micro-brewery under its roof. At the same time, it is an eatery and a renowned music venue for traditional and contemporary music.

 All the hard work and the quality of his beers were officially recognized by the Lonely Planet, when in May 2017, very timely just before the first Craft Beer and Street Food Festival, the well-known and renowned travel guide published a Global Craft Beer Guide. The Burren Brewery is one of only three Irish Craft Breweries listed in the guide!

 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.

Exploring the Burren

 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 wildflowers. 

 Burren Perfumery

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.

Exploring 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.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren

Explore Cathal O’Rourke, a fifth-generation farmer, and his wife Bronagh, a regional eco-tour guide, to a 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 help conserve and protect the landscape.

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.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

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.

Exploring the Burren

Poulawack Cairn

Poulawack can be found to the north of Poulnabrone and was excavated in 1934. The burials at Poulawack date back over 2000 years. 

Exploring the Burren

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. 

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring 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 Lion’s Den, and floral designs with an Adam and Eve Carving. 

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Lisdoonvarna & the Matchmaking Festival

Lisdoonvarna can be found on the southern edge of the Burren and in 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.

Exploring the Burren

 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.

Doolin

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.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren

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.

Exploring the Burren
Famine Graveyard

Another 40,000 fled Clare to Cobh ending up on the coffin ships headed to the New World.

 Where to stay in the Burren

The Farm House – Lisdoonvarna

The Farm House is a 350-year-old Irish cottage self-catering farmhouse stay. With 3 bedrooms that sleep 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.

Exploring the Burren

Liam’s Cottage

Liam’s Cottage BnB is the perfect place for two – you have a fully equipped kitchen to prepare your own meals. The cottage is located near to everything on your bucket list and you can’t beat the breakfast.

Ballinsheen House

Situated in the town of Lisdoonvarna, Ballinsheen House offers free Wi-Fi and free private parking. On the edge of the Burren National Park, it is just 10 minutes drive from the Cliffs of Moher.

The rooms include a flat-screen TV, radio alarm clock, bottled mineral water, and tea and coffee-making facilities. The en suite bathrooms have complimentary toiletries and a hairdryer.

In the mornings, the family-run Ballinsheen House serves cooked breakfast alongside a buffet of cereal, yogurt, fruits, and bread. The menu includes a full Irish breakfast, a local farmhouse cheese plate, and smoked salmon from the Burren region.

Rathbaun Hotel

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.

Exploring 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.

Have you been to the Burren yet?

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Exploring the Burren

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