12 June, 2013 – Our group of American students and faculty traveled to the West of Ireland, into northwest County Clare and through the Burren, land of the fertile rock. Steady rain accompanied us and the views were partially obstructed by mist. Still, the contrast between the shades of gray in the Burren and the green rolling meadows we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the windows of our charter bus was striking.
In this rocky landscape lies an abundance of native flora, including 22 of Ireland’s 27 native orchid species. Alpine and arctic wildflowers grow side-by-side in compact clusters between the stone clints and grikes. We learned there are over 500 ring forts and eighty known Neolithic tombs in the Burren, along with labyrinth caves and disappearing streams and lakes. We were able to view one of the portal tombs.
Along the twisting, narrow roads that cut through the Burren were dark bogs where turf is cut and the small, white flowers that grow there are known as bog cotton. Towering hazel and gorse laden with yellow blooms line the edge of the road and dissect the karst meadows. We skirted the shores of Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean where waves crashed with spectacular force against the rocks.
The Burren is comprised of 216 square miles of limestone and granite that was deposited over millions of years as the Atlantic formed and reformed. We passed the Cliff of Moher, rising 668 feet from the shoreline along the southern rim of Galway Bay. There were many fewer sheep and cattle than in other parts of Ireland, although we spotted some hardy ewes and rams climbing the steep hillsides.
The Burren is a protected area in County Clare. We were advised to take away only our photographs and memories, and to leave only our footprints. Which is precisely what we did.