The Burren Landscape, near Corkscrew Hill   Todd Parker

The Burren


“After two days' march we entered into the Barony of Burren, of which it is said, that 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; which last is so scarce, that the inhabitants steal it from one another, and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in tufts of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing”
Edmund Ludlow, 1651

Burren Region: The Burren region is located along Ireland ’s mid-western coast, lying across two counties, Clare and Galway , though it is more commonly associated with the former. It is estimated that the Burren uplands region (rising to a height of 300m) extends over 360 square kms, while the Burren lowlands to the east cover a further 200 sq. kilometres. The name Burren is taken from the Irish for boireann, meaning rocky place. The majority of the land is covered by a sheet of bare, porous carboniferous limestone. In the fissures between the rocks, an extraordinary variety of rare plants flourish and it is this combination of landscape and flora which gives the Burren its unique attraction. It is home to 70% of Ireland ’s native flora, including 22 of our 27 native orchid species and the much-loved blue gentian, compressed into what is just under 0.5% of our national land mass. A Greenlander, Basque or even a North American will all find something familiar in this exotic western setting. This extraordinary flora supports an equally diverse fauna – from feral goats to pine martens, elegant butterflies to snake-like slow worms.

The Burren also has a wealth of history that dates back over 7,000 years. The first farmers are thought to have arrived in the Burren in the early Neolithic period, and have left their mark in the form of burial tombs, the first signs of human settlement in one place. Farming activity appears to have been of a small scale, transient nature characterised by sporadic clearances, followed by abandonment and subsequent regeneration of the woody vegetation. The legacy of these early settlers is best seen in early burial sites such as the famous Poulnabrone portal dolmen, built some 5,800 years ago. There are numerous examples of what are colloquially referred to as “fairy forts”, in fact over 500 of these so-called ring forts, ancient farmer’s homesteads lie in stony silence on the Burren. Associated with the otherworld they are usually located to take defensive advantage of the terrain, sometimes having two or three encircling walls. As a monument to a more recent past, Tower houses and Early Christian church sites are also very common, many in an excellent state of preservation. The preservation of much of the built heritage of the Burren can be attributed to the availability of stone building materials, and its obvious durability when compared to earth or wood structures built in the same era. Similarly, the sheer abundance of rock is a disincentive for any modern day farmer or developer to reclaim the land for purposes which nature never intended.

Many people are drawn to the Burren and held there without ever quite understanding why. This indescribable magnetism found international expression during the Mullaghmore saga when the notion of this remote hill representing 'the soul of Ireland ' gained considerable empathy, in somewhat the same way that Ayers Rock in Australia is so sacred to the Aboriginal people. The mysticism of the Burren has also found expression in the books of local poet John O'Donohue, in particular the best selling Anam Cara or ‘soul mate’.

Travel Guide - The Burren
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