Guest Author - Elizabeth Brennan
If you are privileged to be planning a trip to Ireland you must not return to your native country without visiting and walking in The Burren in County Clare in the west of Ireland.
The Burren, from an Irish word Boireann which means ‘stony place’ is a vast karst landscape of blue/grey limestone bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. This limestone was laid down more than 350 million years ago from the remains of sea animals when Ireland was covered by a tropical sea. It is stony and grey and stretches for more than 250 sq. kms encircled by the villages of Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin. Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna within a couple of hours driving distance from Shannon Airport. It is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe.
The limestone forms vast flat pavements of blue/grey rock criss crossed by grikes which cut the 700m deep stone into square and rectangular patchwork clints. These clints themselves are pock marked with hollows and grooves from the eroding rains coming in from the Atlantic. From a distance it looks like a vast stony desert topped by hazel scrub on the uplands. However there is a surprise in store.
The Burren is home to more than 70% of Ireland’s flora including more than 80% of the island’s wild orchids. It is internationally famous and botanists from all over the world visit the Burrento enjoy and study the flora. From mid-spring it is awash with colour, the purple,pink and blue of the Blue Gentian, Bloody Cranesbill and Mountain Avens. The Burren is unique in having an enormous diversity of flora. Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean plants grow side by side. Even lime loving and lime hating plants cohabit in this unique ecosystem.
The area abounds in underground streams, disappearing rivers, caves and vanishing lakes called turloughs. Ailwee Cave, four miles from Ballyvaughan, which was discovered in the 1940s is now open to visitors. There is only one river in the Burren which flows over ground from source to the sea – The Caher which flows into the sea at Fanore.
The Burren is home to a flock of more than on thousand feral goats, rabbits, hares and even the elusive pine marten. The uplands are lush winter pasture for cattle which are driven up from the lowlands. The heat retaining and free draining properties of the limestone ensure a plentiful supply of grass and dry ground for over wintering animals. This winter grazing removes the tall grasses and weeds and allows the wide variety of flowers to thrive.
There is evidence of human habitation going back thousands of years. There are more than 500 ring forts and eighty neolithic tombs. As stone was widely available for building there are castles, tower houses, ancient cooking sites and ancient Christian churches to be seen in every field and by every road.
You can of course take a self – guided walking tour of the area with the help of guide books and maps, which are freely available. However you are likely to miss some of the most interesting geological, botanical or archaeological sites. To fully benefit from your visit take a guided tour from The Burren Centre in Kilfenora.
This book The Burren and The Aran Islands – A Walking Guide gives route maps, flora and fauna and interesting places to be seen in the Burren and the Aran Islands.
Even if you cannot make the trip in person this book will give you a feel for what you are missing!