It’s not quite the Ireland we picture when we think of the rolling bright green hills, but this is an equally spectacular and unique part of the Irish landscape wit–needless to say–a long and magical history.
The Burren is in northwest County Clare (where the famous Cliffs of Moher are located), south of Galway, stretching to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay. It’s about 100 square miles (250 sq kms) of rocky hills and valleys–the official description is a karst landscape–where the winds blow mists in from the sea, and the prehistoric-looking rocks have folded and cracked to form this amazing area. The word Burren comes from the Irish word bhoireann which means ‘stony place’. The ground here is limestone which formed under the sea hundreds of millions of years ago. Then it went through the era of glaciers, which stripped and cracked the stone to this smooth rocky look.
These days there is an unusual mixture of flora growing amongst the rocks and streams: arctic, alpine and even Mediterranean plants and flowers have found survival here. Around 6 square miles (15 sq kms) of it have been designated Burren National Park; it’s one of only six national parks in Ireland.
Dotted around the landscape are megalithic tombs and monuments older than the pyramids in Egypt – some are dated at around 6,000 years old. The most famous are at Poulnabrone where there are around 60 wedge tombs. If you like caves head for the Ailwee Caves which are 4 miles (6.5 km) from Ballyvaughan and delve one-third of a mile into the mountain with great stalactites, stalagmites, and waterfalls.
Between mid-March and the end of October, in the village of Kilfenora, you can visit The Burren Centre to learn about the geological, historical, and spiritual importance of the Burren to Ireland. Then you can head into this fabulous landscape for yourself and be walking on what was literally once the bottom of the sea.