After our stop at the Cliffs of Moher, we continued on through the area of County Clare known as the Burren. The "forty shades of green" immortialized by Johnny Cash vanished and was replaced by a landscape that seemed almost lunar in composition. The name Burren comes from the Irish word bhoireann which means rocky place and it's a fitting name as the surrounding landscape is made almost entirely of limestone rocks. What is surprising though are all of the wildflowers that somehow find something to grow in, many of them quite rare.
We didn't stop here long, maybe 10 minutes or so off the bus, but The Burren is quite large and we got to see quite a bit of it as we made our way to Galway.
As we were leaving County Clare to head back to Dublin at the end of our trip, we came upon these amazing ruins near the town of Gort and just a few miles outside of the county line. The abandoned church of MacDuagh was built about 1000 years ago and, on the same site, was a Norman tower from about 900 years ago. Again, as with most of our trip through Ireland, we had this place virtually to ourselves - no entrance fees and no other visitors. It was interesting to walk around the tower and, only then did I realize that there were no entrances to it except for an open doorway about 20 feet up. Apparantly, this tower was used as a refuge by the monks when danger was reported to be afoot in the area - just haul up the rope ladder and wait it out! Another interesting fact is that the tower is actually leaning slightly, about 2 feet out of plumb with true vertical - watch out Pisa!
The Burren is a beautiful and rugged plateau of exposed limestone that makes up much of north west County Clare. A drive a long the scenic coast will take you to such wonders as the Cliffs of Moher and Poulnabrone Dolmen. Inland you can find the natural marvel that is Mullaghmore. There are many nice villages clinging to the limestone landscape and the entire region is peppered with castles and other more ancient attractions that beg exploration. While admiring the awesome landscape, it is easy to over look details such as the many unique species of plants and flowers that have somehow managed to adapt to this harsh environment. Hiking and walking in the Burren are a great way to experience how desolate this place can be. There are plenty of great spots for picnics.
The Burren makes a great primary destination if you plan to explore Ireland's west coast.
Mullaghmore stands out among an unearthly landscape. This mountainous formation really is the heart of the Burren, and I wonder how many people miss it on their travels. Not only is it an evocative picture of how this land was formed from the sea, it is also a paradise for hikers and botanists. There are several walks and hikes in the area. Some are easy nature walks, some are rugged jaunts up to the summit. The views from the summit are deeply stirring and sweep across the vast rocky expanse of the Burren.
The hike we took to the summit was roughy 1 hour and fifty minutes, round trip. While the trails are well marked, I recommend stopping in at the heritage center in Corofin for information on the area. If you are hiking to the summit, dress as would for hiking any other mountain (rain gear, etc) and be sure to wear sturdy boots with good ankle support.
Mullaghmore should be a high priority for people wishing to experience the ultimate beauty of the Burren.
That is what everyone is doing. The walk along the Cliffs of Moher is the main attraction for the tourists, along the route you will find spots where you can look down the dangerous cliffs. It reaches a height of 200 meters at some places.
I could not see anywhere, where it was possible to find a path going down to the shore.
If you want to set up bases for touring the West of Ireland with all the comforts of home (or better) take a look at 'Rent an Irish Cottage'
They have locations all alongthe western seaboard.
Killorglan would be a good base for Killarney, Gap of Dunloe, Dingle Penninsula (my favorite), Ring of Kerry, Bantry and West Cork. There is an awful lot to see and do in this area. Add Garnish Island in Glengarrif in Co Cork to your itinerary. The drive between Killarney and Glengarrif is beautiful.
Ballyvaughan and Corofin in Clare have spacious thatched cottages. Corofin looks out over the lake. We spent our honeymoon in the cottages in Corofin and loved it. Both of these are great spots for touring the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Ennis, Clonmacnoise and the Shannon, Galway and Doolin for the Aran Island ferry. You could also tour Connemara from here with a little stretch. Try to spend an evening in Doolin for a traditional Irish music 'Seisuin' in the local pubs. Bunratty Folk Village and Castle outside Limerick is a 'living museum' but is actually very well done and well worth a half day visit.
The cottages are so pretty and comfortable you may not want to just stay there and kick back, go to the local for a pint or sit outside on a chair and look out at the view.
B&B are great if you are doing a series of one or two night stays. They vary quite a bit in price and amenities but they are all to a high standard and generally you get what you pay for. Try
for a finder for all types of accomodation.
Lough Derg is Ireland's third largest lake and is one of the most beautiful areas I've come across. There are many small islands in the lake, but the largest is the one of greatest interest. Holy Island has long been a sacred place and there was a monastery there as early as the 7th century A.D. This place was very important in the spiritual development of Ireland. Now, there are ruins of several churches, burial mounds, crosses and an 80 foot tall round tower (those pesky Vikings!).
The lake itself is popular for boating and fishing. You can visit the lake via several villages that surround it, MountShannon may be the place to start.
To get to the island, contact The East Clare Heritage Centre at nearby St Cronan's, Tuamgraney. You will probably have to arrange the short boat ride in advance. The website has more info.
Poll na mBrón or Poulnabrone is one of the Burren's most intriguing sights, and it is on most people's list of things to do. What I think puts a nice twist on it is the time of day you visit. I had visited it on a prior trip, but I recently happened by in the evening and felt the experience was quite different.
In the evening, as the sun is going down and the tour buses are gone, the experience is a bit more spiritual. I'm sure the atmosphere is different in the early morning as well.
So if you are touring the Burren, you might save this one for a more moody time of day.
This 16th century tower house is in a gorgeous spot on the northern coast of the Burren, looking out at Galway Bay. The ocean side of the structure has lost it's wall and is overgrown with grass, but the castle is overall well preserved. Next to the castle is an old well which once provided the castle inhabitants with water.
Its just a bit off the road, down a narrow track. A very good stop if you are passing near by.
I was at the Poulnabrone Dolmen in November 2007. They have finally built a car park. This makes it very easy to see the dolmen. In the past you had to park on a fairly narrow road. Hats off to the construction crew. The new car park is great!
This is one of the most popular spots for tourists after the Guinness Storehouse. The best time to go there is in the Autumn on a cool, clear chilly day. There are just too many people there in Summer. However, it is definitely worth the trip. The scenery is fantastic. There is a car park near the entrance to the cliffs which is pricey if you are only staying for a short while at €8 but if staying for a few hours is good value. There is a row of shops on the way to the cliffs and an interpretive centre set into the hillside as you walk towards the cliffs themselves. The design is actually quite neat and blends in with the surrounding hillside very effectively.
There is a great scene in Father Ted where Ted and Dougal meet Victor Meldrew or the actor who plays Vicrtor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave at these caves. Ted thinks it would be great to go up to him and use his catch phrase "I dont believe it" but the consequences are not what he expected. The final straw for poor old Victor Meldrew is when he hears his catch phrase echoing around the walls of the Ailwee Caves !
Discovered by a local man Jack Connors our walking his dog about 30 years ago the caves are now a great way to spend a few hours seeing the underside of the Burren. As caves go they are small and the ones at Michelstown in Ireland are much bigger. Caves like Nerja in Spain are enormous by comparison. However they give a good understanding of how caves are formed and have some nice structures.
Worh a visit on a wet afternoon....especially if it has been raining for a few days when the underground rivers are at their strongest....and lets face it in Ireland that is pretty much any time of the summer !!!!
After breakfast, we packed up and headed south through the Burren (limestone mountains). We were headed to see the Poulnabrone Dolman (another prehistoric passage tomb) but we got lost (again) and missed the turn. By the time I figured out we were lost, neither of us wanted to go back. So, we saw the castle of Dysert O'Dea instead. It was a dark dank castle, more than a ruin. Again our son looked for toilets.
The new visitor's center which cost €22 million to build is nestled into the hillside (mostly underground) and has a restaurant, exhibits in four areas OCEAN, ROCK, NATURE and MAN. and a movie about the area. It was officially opened in Feb 2007 by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
In 1993 Reddy O'Riordan Staehli Architects won an international architectural design competition to replace the existing visitor and interpretative centre at the Cliffs of Moher...
To minimise the visual impact.., the design strategy proposed an underground building on the site of the existing facility. .. the original, much smaller, centre .. was demolished..
Probably Ireland's most popular tourist attraction for many year, the cliffs now have new visitor's centre (Feb 2007) complete with interpretive centre, cafe, shops etc. It could have ruined the place but it's actually very well done, being built to blend into the surroundings. That went some way to justify the steep 8 euro parking fee!
The cliffs themselves reach 214 metres (702 feet at their highest point) and it's possible to see spectacular scenery of the coastline and islands. As well as the scenery the area is designated as a Special Protected Area for birds.
This is the fantatsic restaurant at the Ballinalacken Hotel, also dueled as our wedding reception...more
North of Tully, Renvyle, Connemara, Ireland
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
Bunratty Village, Bunratty, County Clare, Ireland
Good for: Business