Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Burren: Land of the Fertile Rock.

Slieve Elva from

I have visited the Burren countless times over the years, each time I’m awestruck by the landscape which leads me astray amongst the grey purple rock and twisting roads.

Although the Burren appears barren, it has been inhabited and farmed for almost six millennia and 
is full of unexpected treasures awaiting discovery.

‘The Lowering Sky’

The iconic Poulnabrone dolmen, Poll na mBrón, "hole of sorrows”, above, is thought to have been built here because of a natural spring which rises close by. 
The spring has flowed for thousands of years as it does to this day. 

The ice carved rock and water scarred limestone holds the resting places of many ancestors.

Páirc na Binne wedge tomb is one of 80 such monuments on the Burren.

The Glenisheen collar, perhaps an offering to the gods, 
was found by a local man near Ballyvaughan in 1934.

Here Pagan practices sit side by side with Christian devotions.

Abbey at Kilmacduagh with hill top mound on the horizon.

A luxuriant hidden valley hides a clear spring well.

Spring flowers emerge in unlikely places.

There is a goddess above a doorway,

near a stone to cure the backache.

Twisted whitethorn turns against the Atlantic wind

and sudden lowering cloud descends down to the Flaggy Shore.

The wild Burren holds many surprises.

In recent years, Jeff O’Connell wrote about the late Patrick Sheehan, professor of Modern Irish Literature. He recalled a visit they made to the Burren at 2am to discover whether places, once inhabited, still held the spiritual traces of the people.

“ … if anyone had seen us they would have truly thought we were, truly, away with the fairies … 
Suddenly we began to see tiny points of light all over the place for maybe 15 or 20 minutes.
We were stunned and found we’d had the same kind of experience.
We headed home and hardly ever talked of it again.”

Years later O’Connell discovered that the spot they had visited was the site of a long deserted village.

Although I love this grey green landscape, I have come to realise that I'm not wholly at ease here.
In the silence broken only by birdcall and wind, I have often felt myself observed and am certain that for a few moments I am not alone.
The land of the fertile rock holds memories of the past and old ones still haunt the land.

For a taste of the Burren in spring:

My understanding of the Burren has been greatly increased by reading “The Book of The Burren’ which includes chapters on its’ geology, flora, wildlife, pre-history, sacred wells and much more. 

You can order the book HERE

For a glimpse into how life may have been lived in the 16th century, the Burren mystery novels by
local author Cora Harrison, featuring her Brehon detective, Mara, are worth reading.

Her books are HERE

But nothing compares to visiting the place itself. 
If you intend to visit the Burren this is the map you need. 

The Burren by Tim Robinson is detailed enough to show wells, sacred sites and places of folklore,
but beware - it will not stop you from being led astray. 

Available from: Tim and Máiréad Robinson. Folding Landscapes. 
Roundstone, Co. Galway.  Email: 


  1. The first pictures look beautifully barren, but there is obviously so much more. Fascinating area, I love the complicated simplicity of the countryside (if that oxymoron makes any sense at all!) xxx

  2. It makes perfect sense Fran and I think it is that complicated simplicity - as well as the atmosphere there - that leads me astray!

  3. There are places where existences merge, where we are aware of the unseen others watching us and I think that they to are aware of us and our doings.

  4. Absolutely agree Heron and I have a strong sense of just that when I'm on the Burren.

  5. I love this landscape, Jane. It has a strange wildness to it and I can understand you feeling slightly uneasy here. All the same, it is incredibly appealing. I am going to look at those books by Cora Harrison now!

  6. Despite my unease I keep returning Val - it is a very beautiful place. Hope you enjoy the books! x


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