It was still a very cloudy and rainy day. For today, The Wandelgek had arranged a bus tour with Bus Eireann Daytours. The bus was to leave from Galway station at 9.45 am, so an early start was required because the camping site was outside the center of Galway. The tour was called the “Atlantic Coast & Burren Tour” and at 18:30 pm the bus would be back at Galway Station.
The bus first drove along the beautiful Galway Bay. Just south of the city, we left the County Galway to enter County Clare, driving into the limestone hills of the Burren (“Boirinn” which means big rock) landscape. The Burren, halfway the Irish west coast (when seen from north to south), is a wonderful piece of karst area on the south side of Galway Bay. It is a flat table land of carboniferous limestone that rises in different stages above the coast.
When the British General Cromwell started his military campaign against the Irish between 1649 and 1653, and his army arrived in The Burren, he had the following to say about this desolate region:
“There isn’t a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man nor soil to bury a man.”
The Wandelgek itself rather describes it as a moonscape, with flattened hills of porous limestone with gray barren terraces and small streams that seep into the ground which is full of scars. Underground rivers, caves and lakes (loughs) that one day are filled with water and the next completely empty. Only Alpine flora can manage to get some grip into the cracks where some humus has been hiding.
The Burren (Irish: Boireann, meaning “great rock”, Boirinn, the dative form, is the modern form used by the Ordnance Survey) is a karst-landscape region or alvar in northwest County Clare, in Ireland. It is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe. The region measures approximately 250 square kilometres and is enclosed roughly within the circle made by the villages Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna. It is bounded by the Atlantic and Galway Bay on the west and north, respectively.
A small portion of the Burren has been designated as Burren National Park. It is one of only six National Parks in Ireland and the smallest in size (15 km²). Three quarters of Ireland’s species of flowers are found in the Burren.
The Burren area formed part of the territory of Corco Modhruadh, meaning “seed or people of Modhruadh” which was coextensive with the diocese of Kilfenora. At some point around the 12th Century, the territory was divided in two: Corco Modhruadh Iartharach (“Western Corcomroe”) and Corco Modhruadh Oirthearach (“Eastern Corcomroe”) also known as Boireann which in the late 16th century became the English administrative baronies of Corcomroe and Burren respectively. The O’Loughlin (Ó Lochlainn) clan ruled Boireann down to the mid 17th century from their chief residence at Gragans Castle (towerhouse not the house of the same name). The chief of the family was known in later times as the ‘Prince of Burren’ and clan members were buried in the family tomb near the altar of Corcomroe Abbey. Their kinsmen the O’Connor (Ó Conchubhair) clan ruled Corco Modhruadh Iartharach from Dough Castle near Liscannor. The villages and towns found within the medieval territory of Boireann include Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan, New Quay / Burrin, Noughaval, Bealaclugga, Carron and Fanore / Craggagh.
Burren is rich with historical and archaeological sites. There are more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area, portal dolmens (including Poulnabrone dolmen), a Celtic high cross in the village of Kilfenora, and a number of ring forts – among them the triple ring fort Cahercommaun on the edge of an inland cliff, and the exceptionally well-preserved Caherconnell Stone Fort. Corcomroe Abbey is one of the area’s main scenic attractions.
The rolling hills of Burren are composed of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as “grikes”,
leaving isolated rocks called “clints”. The region supports arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. The limestones, which date from the Visean stage of the Lower Carboniferous, formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago. The strata contain fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins and ammonites.
Glaciation during the Quaternary period facilitated greater denudation. The result is that the Burren is one of the finest examples of a glacio-karst landscape in the world. The effects of the last glacial period (the Midlandian) are most in evidence, with the Burren overrun by ice during this glaciation. The impact of earlier karstification (solutional erosion) has been eliminated by the last glacial period. So any surface karstification now seen dates from approximately 10,000 years ago and the Burren karst is thus recent. Solutional processes have widened and deepened the grikes of the limestone pavement. Pre-existing lines of weakness in the rock (vertical joints) contribute to the formation of extensive fissures separated by clints (flat pavement like slabs). The rock karstification facilitates the formation of subterranean drainage.
Climate and agriculture
The Burren has an unusually temperate climate. Average air temperatures range from 15°C in July to 6°C in January. The soil temperature does not usually drop below 6°C (end 2010 recorded a very unusual prolonged period of snow). Since grass will grow once the temperature rises above 6°C, this means that the Burren (like the neighbouring Aran Islands) has one of the longest growing seasons in Ireland or Britain, and supports diverse and rich plant growth. Late May is the sunniest time, and also likely the best time to view flowers, with the gentians and avens peaking (but orchid species blooming later.
During counter-guerilla operations in Burren in 1651-52, Edmund Ludlow stated, “(Burren) is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.”
Flora and fauna
The Burren is renowned for its remarkable assemblage of plants and animals. The region supports many rare Irish species, some of which are only found in this area. Others occur in similar karst areas in western Ireland. Notable insects present in the Burren include the butterfly the Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne, Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae, Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia and Wood White Leptidea sinapis; the moths, the Burren Green Calamia tridens, Irish Annulet Odontognophos dumetata and Transparent Burnet Zygaena purpuralis; the hoverfly Doros profuges and the water-beetle Ochthebius nilssoni. This last species is known from just 5 sites in the world, its type locality in northern Sweden and four marl lakes in the Burren.
The grykes (crevices) provide moist shelter, thus supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier Arctic or Alpine plants can be found. But when the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants like the gentian and orchids.
The blue flower of the Spring Gentian, an alpine plant, is used as a symbol for the area by the tourist board.
The Burren is one of the main breeding areas in Ireland of the European Pine Marten.
Burren has a long history of traditional Irish music. It is particularly known for the “West Clare Style” of concertina playing and the music festival in Doolin.
The bus drove through this area, which is much less arid than you might think, reaching a landscape of karst cave systems as described above. The Ailwee caves, were visited by The Wandelgek. The Wandelgek actually visited one of the many caves that are named Ailwee. Inside the cave is a little river and a high waterfall. If the light from the flashlight goes out, you experience what absolute darkness is. According to the guide, absolute darkness is a kind of darkness where the human eye will never get used to. Long ago, these caves were also the sites where bears slept during the long harsh winter.
Aillwee Cave (also known as McGann’s Cave) is a show cave located in the karst landscape of the Burren in north west County Clare, Ireland. The name Aillwee is derived from the Irish Aill Bhuí which means “yellow cliff”.
The cave system consists of over a kilometre of passages leading into the heart of the mountain. Its features include an underground river and a waterfall as well as some large stalactites and stalagmites. The remains of bears can also be seen inside the caves and allusions have been made to it being the last bear den in Ireland. Roughly 300 metres (980 ft) of cave passage is open to the public, one third of the total length of the cave. The tours end at a point called the Highway and exit the cave via a 250-metre (820 ft) man-made tunnel. The cave is typical of the Clare caves, consisting in the main of stream passage and ending in a sump. The general direction is east–west but turns due south some 600 metres (2,000 ft) into the cave.
The cave is considerably older than most of the Clare caves and originally contained a large stream. The cave is now largely deserted of the stream and is heavily backfilled with glacial infill. The formations visible on the show cave tour are rarely more than 8000 years old but calcite samples in the recesses of the cave have been dated to over 350,000 years old.
Discovery and exploration
It was discovered in 1944, when a farmer named Jack McGann followed his dog who was chasing a rabbit. The farmer did not explore very far into the caves, and did not tell anyone of the find for nearly 30 years. He told cavers of the cave in 1973 and that summer the cave was explored as far as a boulder choke. Show cave development began quite soon after. The boulder choke was removed in 1977 and access was gained to the rest of the cave. The Marine Blast tunnel was completed in 1992 to allow a circular trip.
The caves appear in the Father Ted episode “The Mainland” under the name “The Very Dark Caves“. They are also mentioned in a story in Part II of The Basset Chronicles by June J. McInerney.
After visiting the Ailwee caves near Ballyvaughan the bus drove further to the Poulnabrone Dolmen.
Poulnabrone dolmen (Poll na mBrón in Irish, meaning “hole of the quern stones” (bró in Irish)) is a portal tomb in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland, dating back to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It is situated 8 km (5 miles) south of Ballyvaughan in the parish of Carran, 9.6 km (6 miles) north-west of Kilnaboy (grid ref: 123 200).
The dolmen consists of a twelve-foot, thin, slab-like, tabular capstone supported by two slender portal stones, which support the capstone 1.8 m (6 ft) from the ground, creating a chamber in a 9 m (30 ft) low cairn. The cairn helped stabilize the tomb chamber, and would have been no higher during the Neolithic. The entrance faces north and is crossed by a low sill stone.
A crack was discovered in the eastern portal stone in 1985. Following the resulting collapse, the dolmen was dismantled, and the cracked stone was replaced. Excavations during that time found that between 16 and 22 adults and six children were buried under the monument. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. In the Bronze Age, around 1700 BC, a newborn baby was buried in the portico, just outside the entrance. With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb was probably a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period, or it may have served as a territorial marker in the Neolithic landscape.
Due to the Burren’s excellent dark skies and Poulnabrone’s remote location, the car park, built in 2007, has been used by Shannonside Astronomy Club as an unofficial public observatory. In April 2013, many observations of the comet PanSTARRS C/2011 L4 were made by the club at this location.
The tour continued along Castle Lemaneagh. this castle was located on the eastern edge of the Burren region and was an important stronghold of O’Brien, a leading opponent of Cromwell. the remains of a tower dating from around 1480. bolted to the tower is a 17th century hooggevelig house with four floors. In 1651 Conor O’Brien died here from injuries he sustained during the defense of the pass of Inchicronan against followers of Cromwell.
The Wandelgek lunched on the beach of the beautiful seaside village of Lahinch.
Lahinch or Lehinch (Irish: An Leacht or Leacht Uí Chonchubhair, meaning “The Memorial cairn of O’Connor”) is a small town on Liscannor Bay, on the northwest coast of County Clare, Ireland. It lies on the N67 national secondary road, between Milltown Malbay and Ennistymon, roughly 75 kilometres (47 mi) by road southwest of Galway and 68 kilometres (42 mi) northwest of Limerick. The village is a seaside resort and is home to the renowned Lahinch Golf Club. It has also become a popular surfing location.
Lahinch is the anglicised form of Leath Inse, meaning peninsula. This is not related to Leacht Uí Chonchubhair, which means “O’Connor’s Grave”, referring to the memorial cairn (Leacht) marking the burial place of one of the O’Connor chieftains, who were the ruling clan of the district of Corco Modhruadh Iartharach.
The town was recorded by the Annals of the Four Masters as Leith Innse, which is a variant of the Irish word for a peninsula leithinis (“half island”), which describes the village’s location between the Inagh River and the sea. The town today is mostly spelt “Lahinch”, but a selection of road signs in the area use the spelling “Lehinch”.
After lunch, a definite highlight of the trip followed; a long visit to the world famous Cliffs of Moher.
It had rained that morning in Galway but from the moment the bus left Galway it had stopped. However, there was still a cloudy sky, so the weather was a bit gloomy. But that was in this landscape actually appropriate. Also the Cliffs of Moher were brilliant in this gloominess. Wandering along the cliff’s edge, The Wandelgek saw, far into the steep depth, the huge holes that were worn out of the soft limestone. The crashing of the waves was literally audible, because of these huge holes down there.
A young woman, probably a student from Galway, sang Irish songs and accompanied herself on her harp. “The Rose of Tralee” and “Molly Malone“. How can it be more Irish. Later in Dublin I saw the famous statue of Molly Malone with her fish cart.
Looking to the north, I saw in the distance O’Briens Tower, at a point where the cliffs are over 200 meters high.
The Cliffs of Moher (“Aillte an Mhothair” which translates as “cliffs of destruction”) rise vertically from the Atlantic Ocean. They run from Hag‘s Head in the south, where they are about 120 meters high to O’Brien’s Tower in north, where they are more than 200 meters high. Between these two points is a mainly flat plateau of about 8 km in length. From the top of the cliff looking down you can spot narrow strips of vegetation, attached to the cliffs. Far down in the ocean are small, sharp, rocky islands and the surf rolls against the cliffs, while high above seagulls, screeching, circle the sky.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher (Irish: Aillte an Mhothair) are located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland. They rise 120 metres (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach their maximum height of 214 metres (702 ft) just north of O’Brien’s Tower, eight kilometres to the north. The tower is a round stone tower near the midpoint of the cliffs built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien. From the cliffs and from atop the tower, visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the Maumturks and Twelve Pins mountain ranges to the north in County Galway, and Loop Head to the south. The cliffs rank are amongst the top visited tourist sites in Ireland, and receive almost one million visitors a year.
The cliffs take their name from an old fort called Moher that once stood on Hag’s Head, the southernmost point of the cliffs. The writer Thomas Johnson Westropp referred to it in 1905 as Moher Uí Ruis or Moher Uí Ruidhin. The fort still stood in 1780 and is mentioned in an account from John Lloyd’s a Short Tour Of Clare (1780). It was demolished in 1808 to provide material for a new telegraph tower. The present tower near the site of the old Moher Uí Ruidhin was built as a lookout tower during the Napoleonic wars.
The cliffs are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland and topped the list of attractions in 2006 by drawing almost one million visitors. Since 2011 they have formed a part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, one of a family of geotourism destinations throughout Europe which are members of the European Geoparks Network.
In the 1990s, Clare County Council initiated development plans to enable visitors to experience the cliffs without significant intrusive man-made amenities. In keeping with this approach, the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience was built into a hillside approaching the cliffs. The centre is also intended to be environmentally sensitive in its use of renewable energy systems including geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, and grey water recycling.
The €32 million facility was planned and built over a 17-year period, and officially opened in February 2007. Facility exhibits include interactive media displays covering the geology, history, flora and fauna of the cliffs. And a large multimedia screen displays a bird’s eye view from the cliffs, as well as video from the underwater caves below the cliffs.
The visitor’s centre charges €6 per adult, with children under 16 admitted free. Charges include parking, access to the visitor centre and Atlantic Edge exhibition, and a contribution towards conservation and safety at the cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience won an award in the “Interpret Britain & Ireland Awards” 2007 awarded by the Association of Heritage Interpretation (AHI). Although the award was specifically for the Atlantic Edge exhibition, the AHI assessed the entire visitor centre and site. The citation stated that the entire visitor centre was “one of the best facilities that the judges had ever seen.”
Separate ferry trips also allow tourists to view the cliffs from sea level.
Geology and wildlife
The cliffs consist mainly of beds of Namurian shale and sandstone, with the oldest rocks being found at the bottom of the cliffs. It is possible to see 300 million year-old river channels cutting through, forming unconformities at the base of the cliffs.
There are an estimated 30,000 birds living on the cliffs, representing more than 20 species. These include Atlantic Puffins, which live in large colonies at isolated parts of the cliffs and on the small Goat Island. Also present are hawks, gulls, guillemots, shags, ravens and choughs.
The Cliffs of Moher have appeared in numerous media. In cinema, the cliffs have appeared in several films, including The Princess Bride (1987) (as the filming location for “The Cliffs of Insanity”), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and Leap Year (2010). The cliffs are mentioned in the Martin Scorsese film Bringing Out the Dead (1999), and are noted in the 2008 documentary Waveriders as the location of a large surfing wave known as “Aileens”.
In music, the cliffs have appeared in music videos, including Maroon 5’s “Runaway” video, Westlife’s “My Love”, and Rich Mullins’ “The Color Green”. Most of singer Dusty Springfield’s ashes were scattered at the cliffs by her brother, Tom.
In television, the cliffs appear in the episodes of Father Ted called “Tentacles of Doom” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading” (1996).
In literature, the cliffs are an important location in Eoin Colfer’s The Wish List, as one of Lowrie’s wishes is spitting off the Cliffs of Moher.
On the return trip to Galway the bus drove through Lisdoonvarna and Blackhead.Share this blog on:
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