Land and Heritage: Ireland’s Burren
Land and Heritage: Visiting Ireland’s Burren
Ireland’s Burren is a rocky, windswept region filled with ancient ruins. In this post, you’ll learn what makes the Burren so special, including its lunar-like landscape and plant life that’s found nowhere else.
The word “Burren” comes from the Irish word “Boireann,” meaning a rocky place. In fact, the rocky landscape of the Burren is the result of a geological explosion that took place in ancient times and still defines the land today.
Over time, much of the topsoil in the Burren eroded away, leaving vast patches of exposed grey limestone and unusual rock formations.
In the northern part of the Burren, “limestone pavement” or vast areas of flat surfaces of exposed limestone, covers much of Black Head. This unusual feature makes Black Head the perfect spot for walking and taking in the beautiful views of Galway Bay.
Like in the rest of the Burren, arctic-alpine plants grow alongside Mediterranean plants at Black Head. Amazingly, the gaps between the rocks have microclimates, which are perfect for hosting plants from different climate zones.
Burren National Park
In the southern part of the Burren, Burren National Park has walking trails passing through limestone-filled grasslands and woodlands. Walking through here is a highlight of any visit to the area.
In the park, you can hike on paths that look out to the impressive Mullaghmór hill, which is made of swirls of contorted limestone.
The dry stone walls here are hundreds, or thousands, of years old. Notably, these walls have no mortar or cement holding them together. It’s quite a feat that they still stand on their own after so much time.
Some walls mark land holdings of small tenant farmers or one-time pilgrim sites with small chapels. Others mark “wildlife parks” where wealthy gentry once hunted game.
So, the Burren landscape “tells many stories” that might not be obvious at first glance.
After hiking on our own, we had the pleasure of touring Burren National Park with Tony Kirby, a local guide with an encyclopedic knowledge of history, botany, poetry, and more.
Tony told us about human settlements in the area going back thousands of years, dating to the late Bronze Age. In fact, you can see evidence of these civilizations today in the form of ancient tombs and chapels.
Ancient Tomb at Poulnabrone
During ancient times, people in Ireland often used communal tombs to house the dead.
The massive Poulnabrone tomb in the Burren dates back to 3,000 BC. In fact, scholars say that this is the best-preserved ancient tomb of its kind in all of Ireland.
In 1985, archeologists discovered the partial remains of 30 people buried under this tomb. Incredibly, the rock balancing on the stone pillars weighs over 1.5 tons!
The Burren Perfumery
There’s more to visiting the Burren than being amid nature and history.
One unique place you can visit is the Burren Perfumery.
This hidden gem features a variety of lovely perfumes, soaps, and teas made from exotic Burren plants. Plus, you can enjoy a gourmet homemade lunch at the Tea Room or on a small shaded patio.
For your meal, begin with soup of the day and a piece of freshly baked bread. Want more? Add some local cheese and salad. If you’re still hungry, feast on one of the many tasty cakes, scones and pies.
Ballyvaughan, a quaint harbor village with a population of less than 300, is an ideal base for exploring the Burren. For a small village, it has some very good hotels, restaurants, and even a pub.
Hylands Burren Hotel
We stayed at the Hylands Burren Hotel in the middle of Ballyvaughan. From its front door, you can walk to the pub or restaurants. Or, you can enjoy a meal at the hotel’s pleasant dining room, if you’re too tired to venture out.
Ireland’s Burren – The Fertile Rock
Ireland’s Burren is a unique landscape filled with history and ancient ruins. While there, you can feel very far away from the world.
To wrap up this post, here’s a poem that captures the Burren’s spirit:
“The footprints of an elder race are here,
And memories of an old heroic time;
And shadows of an old serious faith
So that the place seems haunted
And strange sounds float in the wind.”