In 2011, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were designated as a UNESCO Geopark. Officially, the Burren is a glacio-karst landscape, but the term ‘Burren’ is derived from the Irish word An Bhoireann which means ‘a stony place’, a much more appropriate name!
Formed during the last glacier (about 10,000 years ago), this unique region is a limestone plateau covering 360 km2 of North Clare. More than 60% of the area is bare rock or rocky pasture; enormous slabs of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as “grikes”, leaving isolated rocks called “clints”.
A Botanist’s Delight
For flower lovers, the best time to see the Burren is in May, when an array of amazingly delicate flowers dot the grey limestone with spectacular bursts of colour. The Burren is home to more than 70% of Ireland’s native plants (635 species), including unusual combinations of Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean species. It is particularly famous for its orchids – 22 of Ireland’s 27 native orchids are found here. Visit Burren in Bloom for more details.
Stony Graves and Caves
There is evidence of human settlement in the The Burren dating back 6,000 years. It is littered with approx. 2,000 ancient monuments to the past including 90 megalithic tombs. Our ancestors had a very limited selection of building materials – stone, stone or… stone. This has meant that their structures and graves have survived thousands of years after they were originally built. The most famous monument is the iconic Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large capstone grave built circa 5,800 years ago, pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids. This can be visited all year round, and is located on R480, close to Ballyvaughan.
The Burren is Ireland’s most important cave area and includes Pollnagollum which is the longest cave in Ireland. Aillwee Cave and Doolin Cave are both open to the public.
With all the Burren has to offer its visitors, the best way to appreciate it is slowly and on foot. There are several guided walks available, including Tony Kirby’s Heart of Burren Walks. Tony is infectiously passionate about this unique region.