The Burren, in North County Clare and parts of South County Galway covering an area of 160 square km, is unique - it is like no other place in Ireland. There are no bogs and very few pastures. Instead there are huge pavements of limestone called 'clints' with vertical fissures in the called 'grikes'.
Most of the drainage is underground in caves; but unless you are an experienced potholer these are not for you, as they are active, becoming flooded rivers in times of rain. You may explore The Burren underworld in comfort within the developed cave at Aillwee, near Ballyvaughan.
Bleak though the place may appear, man has settled here since the stone age. Evidence of his habitations and tombs are all around you; massive dolmens, wedge tombs and stone forts called cahers, (the homesteads of farmers of long ago), survive in various stages of preservation. Churches and castles indicate later periods of settlement.
The Burren is also famous for its plantlife. Limestone-loving plants such as foxgloves and rock roses grow here and rock's microclimates also nurture plants found in the Artic, Alpine and Mediterranean regions. Botanists have attempted to find out why, but no one has come up with a complete answer. Here too in The Burren, 26 of Ireland's 33 species of butterfly have been recorded, including its very own, the Burren Green.
Many of the views around The Burren are truly spectacular. You won't forget Corkscrew Hill and its vista across Galway Bay; or the journey around Black Head or the view from Ballinalacken Hill across to the Aran Islands.
The area is remarkably similar to a moonscape but features amazing foiliage and wildlife. The word 'Burren' is derived from gaelic meaning 'stoney place', it is about 200-300 metres above sea level at the north and about 100 metres in the south with the highest area being the shale capped 'Sleive Elva'at 345 metres above sea level.
The Burren was under a tropical ocean over 360 million years ago, the result being the area covered with limestone, it was tectonic movement that raised an area of this ancient seabed into a magnificent plateau that we now know as 'The Burren'. The Ice Age ploughed through the area widening the river valleys and leaving behind boulder clay. It was after the Ice Age that the landscape went through periods of tundra and may have even been wooded, evidence suggests that early settlers cut down the forest, and allowed the soil to be eroded away, this has happened in many of the worlds karst regions. Centuries of weathering has produced a terrain of fissured limestone pavements, disappearing lakes, terraced mountains, and underground cave systems, the most famous of which is Aillwee cave.
Aillwee Cave is near Ballyvaghn and is one of Irelands oldest caves, it would have been formed when the landscape of the burren was very different from what it is today. Another cave is Pol an Ionain, near Ballynalackan, to explore this cave you will have a low stoney crawl in water, however the light at the end of the tunnel is a large chamber in which you will find a large stalactite hanging from the roof and at 6.7 metres long, probably the largest in the world.
Springs and wells supply almost all the water used on the Burren. The Killeanyspring near Lisdoonvarna is used to supply water over a wide area. The tourist centre of Ballyvaghan uses water from springs on the mountains nearby and from a bored well just outside the town. Corofin, another tourist attraction uses water from Lough Inchiquin, which is fed largely by spring waters from the Burren plateau.
The Cliffs are 8kms long 214m high, it is here that one can most easily get a fell for the wildness of the terrain over which the Celts wandered, for although they built imposing Castles, very often they preferred the outdoor nomadic life and the hunt. The tower was built by Cornelius O'Brien, a descendant of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, and the O'Briens of Bunratty Castle as an observation point for the hundreds of tourists who even visited the Cliffs. From here one can easily view the Cliffs, the Aran Islands, and Galway Bay as well as the Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk mountains to the North in Connemara and Loop Head to the South.