Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
The "Burren" is one of those wild and as yet still untamed places in Ireland, full of myth and mystery. It lies on the rugged Atlantic West Coast, south of Galway in County Clare, and is an area of about 150 square miles.
It has been described as a unique geological outcropping of the ice age which has occurred in only a very few places on earth. In the "Burren" a intrepid tourist can find magnificent monuments, such as the dolmen at Poulnabrone, which indicates that people lived here around 5,000 years before Christ.
The name "Burren" comes from the Irish word "bhoireann," which means stony place. The Burren appears at first in bleak contrast to the luscious green of the rest of Ireland, since it as been largely denuded of soil by glaciation and by centuries of unwise and uncontrolled farming activities. Closer examination, however, reveals the beautiful diversity of flora for which the whole region has become justly famous.
Growing in the thin soils and from the many crevices in the stone is an abundance of plants, many of which are considered extremely rare.
Spring Gentian is readily abundant. The creamy petals of Mountain Avens is just one of many different varieties of unusual plants which thrive in the Burren. The Mountain Avens is most definitely an Alpine species yet here it can be found growing beside the Dense Flowered Orchid, which is generally found in the Mediterranean.
It is a habitat for wild animals such as the rare pinemartin, a large, arboreal, ferret-like animal; strange and unusual birds, like corncrake; rarely seen butterflies and moths; vanishing lakes; underground rivers; stone forts; dolmens; many old churches; and miles of caves.
Throughout the Burren are about twenty churches, some very small such as the one in Oughtmanna, others large such as in Kilfenora.
There are 35 miles of caves, mostly formed in the last 20,000 years,the most famous of which is the Aillwee Cave.
Cromwell’s brother-in-law, General Ludlow, in 1650 wrote of the "Burren" (after his tour of Clare) as follows: “This is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, not wood enough to hang him, nor earth enough to bury him. A place which is so scarce in everything that the inhabitants steal anything from one another and yet, their cattle are very fat, for the grass growing in tufts of earth of two or three feet square that lie between the rocks which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.”
That about sums up The Burren---there's an abundance of life in astounding places.
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