Ireland is known as the "Emerald Isle" due to its green landscape, but not everything is green in the island. In the Burren (in Irish, Boireann, meaning, "a rocky place"), a region in northwestern County Clare, you will discover a much different and unique landscape. But first, we went to see the Cliffs of Moher, also in the Burren Region, but on the coast. This site is one of the most popular destinations among tourists in Ireland. I can understand why.
CLIFFS OF MOHER
The sea cliffs called the Cliffs of Moher are located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region. They stretch for about 8.6 miles (14 kilometers) and rise up to a maximum height of about 700 feet above the sea just north of O'Brien's Tower (a round stone tower near the midpoint of the cliffs built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O'Brien). It is believed that the cliffs are over 320 million years old, built up on the shore over time from sediments carried by ancient rivers.
Walking along the sea cliffs is not for the faint of heart. If you are afraid of heights, this is probably not for you. Although there are barriers, the height of the cliffs and the strong wind can be scary, so stay out of the edge.
When you reach the cliffs from the parking area, you will have a choice of following the cliff-side path in either direction. We went a short distance both ways to see the incredible views, which are something to behold. I wish we had more time to explore the whole trail.
The Cliffs of Moher are not only about the views - this is a special protected area (SPA) for seabirds. Here, you will find the largest colony of nesting seabirds on mainland Ireland. It is home to over 30,000 pairs, with significant numbers of Guillemots and Razorbill, as well as, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Peregrine Falcons and Choughs. The Cliffs of Moher are a bird lover's paradise.
Boat Ride (Doolin Harbor)
After walking the cliffs, why not take a boat ride below for a closer look? Why not indeed. The chilly and windy morning turned into a beautiful day. We started early so we had time to explore the cliffs from below. The nearest pier, or harbor, is just past the village of Doolin (a village noted for its traditional Irish music). This harbor not only services ferries to the base of the cliffs, but also is the gateway to the Aran Islands, which are known for their ancient sites.
It was a short cruise, about an hour long, but exhilarating and worth your time and money. Be prepared to get splashed by the ocean spray. Wear a rain jacket if you must, it will protect you from the chilly wind if not the water spray.
Either walking the cliffs or viewing them from the sea, it was an awesome experience. We are glad we did both. We were lucky enough to have chosen the right day; the next day the weather was not as nice.
BURREN NATIONAL PARK
After the Cliffs of Moher, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore other sights in the Burren Region. Driving towards the Burren National Park, we stopped at the Village of Kilfenora for some tea, cappuccino and cakes. The Kilfenora Visitor Center serves good cakes and drinks. While there, we visited the Kilfenora Cathedral and its High Crosses.
Kilfenora (In Irish, Cill Fhionnúrach, meaning, “Church of the Fertile Hillside” or “Church of the White Brow”) is known as the "City of the Crosses”. This village boasts of having one of the greatest concentrations of high crosses in Ireland. Some can be found inside the Kilfenora Cathedral, conveniently located right behind the Burren Center.
Kilfenora Cathederal was built in 1189 on the site of St. Fachtna’s monastery which was burned in 1055. Although partially in ruins, part of the cathedral is still used for worship by the Protestant parish of the village. Besides the High Crosses, you will find some extraordinary carved stone window frames and effigies here.
The High Crosses, example below, can be found in an area of the cathedral that has been roofed over to protect them.
HIKING/WALKING IN THE BURREN NATIONAL PARK
Here in the Burren, the area is dominated by “glaciokarst” (eroded soluble rocks - limestone, dolomite, gypsum), one of the finest examples of this kind of formation in the world. This unique landscape was formed when glaciers eroded the top layers of mudstone, exposing the limestone underneath. This limestone was dissolved by rain water over time, thereby creating cracks and fissures, underground cave systems, terraced mountains and limestone pavements. It was also suggested that early settlers contributed to exposing the underlying limestone by cutting down the forests in the area, hence resulting in the erosion of the mudstone.
The southeastern corner of the Burren landscape is within the Burren National Park, the smallest of the six national parks in Ireland. Just about 3,700 acres (1500 hectares).
There are five marked walking trails in the park: White (a one-mile Nature Trail), Orange (Knockaunroe Turlough), Green (the four-mile out-and-back Mullaghmore trail), Blue (the 4.7 mile Mullaghmore loop trail), Red (a 3.7 mile Mullaghmore Traverse). The walks vary from a short thirty-minute loop walk to a three-hour walk. Each trail is signposted with color-coded markers.
We didn't have a whole day to explore so we followed the Nature Trail (White Arrow Route), a less than a one-mile moderate walk. It takes only about 40 mins.
Although short, it was a different hiking or walking experience for us. The trail has various features such as karst landscape, which can be uneven and steep in places, as well as a little woodland and some open meadows. It’s good to have proper hiking boots when exploring this area as the terrain can be sharp and rough.
The landscape seems barren, but wait until you explore the area and you will find a lot of interesting things. The Burren supports many living things - diverse plants and animals such as deer, insects and birds.
The landscape is sometimes referred to as "fertile rock" due to the area's diverse flora and fauna.
We didn't expect to see wildlife, other than birds, but we were hoping to see a lot more wildflowers than what we found along the trail (example below). I guess it was too early in spring to see much when we were there.
Wildflowers in the Burren
There is no fee to park at the trailhead or to enter the national park. All guided walks are free as well, but booking is required.
Nature formed the landscape in the Burren and humans help shape it to what it is today. Evidence of early inhabitants in the Burren hills can be found everywhere. Stone-built monuments abound, some older than the Egyptian pyramids. The next day, we explored a couple of these monuments - Caherconnel Stone Fort and the megalithic Poulnabrone Portal tomb.