The Burren (Boirinn, "Great Rock"), halfway along the Irish west coast, is an extraordinary tract of karstic country on the south side of Galway Bay, a flat tableland of unfolded carboniferous limestone strata rising in stages above the coast. When Cromwell's soldiers came here they are said to have complained that there were "too few trees to hang anyone on, too little water to drown anyone in, and too little earth to bury anyone in."It is worth taking some time to explore this lunar landscape, with its rounded hills of porous gray rock and its barren terraces, its little streams which seep away in the scarred surface of the land, its underground rivers, caves and swallow-holes, its loughs which are full one day and empty the next, its Alpine flora finding a foothold in any crevice or cranny which can hold humus.
From Ballyvaughan to Ballynalacken (2mi/3km north of Doolin) a waymarked path passes many of the more important sights in the Burren.There are three possible routes through the Burren - the N67, which goes direct from in the northeast to Lisdoonvarna in the southwest; the R480/R476, running eastward across the middle of the area; and the R477, mostly following the coast, which offers a good return route from Lisdoonvarna to Ballyvaughan.
Ballyvaughan is a small fishing village and a good center from which to explore the surrounding area.
6.5mi/10km northeast pof Ballyvaughan, in a valley just off the N67, are the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey (National Monument), a Cistercian house founded in 1180. The church is well preserved (choir, nave, south aisle, transepts with chapels). The choir has figural carving, fine masonry, beautiful vaulting and simple but appealing tombs.
The N67 cuts across the Burren from Ballyvaughan in the northeast to Lisdoonvarna in the southwest. A few miles from Ballyvaughan, on the right, is the unusually shaped keep of Newtown Castle, circular in form over a pyramidal base.
After a steep climb from Newtown Castle the N67, here known as "Corkscrew Road", reaches its highest point (720ft/220m). To the west rises Slieve Elva (1,109ft/338m), round which a number of streams disappear underground.
Pollnagollum Cave is Ireland's longest cave, of which some 7.5mi/12km have so far been explored. It is open to visitors.
1.25mi/2km south of Ballyvaughan the R480 turns left off the Corkscrew Road and makes its way south. Off this road is the Aillwee Cave, with over 300yd/274m of passages, which has been well laid out for visitors.
Opening hours: Mar 15 to Jun 30: 10am-5:30pm
Jul 1 to Aug 31: 10am-6pm
Sep 1 to Nov 30: 10am-5:30pm
Jul 1 to Aug 31: 10am-6pm
Sep 1 to Nov 30: 10am-5:30pm
Entrance fee in EUR: Family €26.00, Adult €8.00, Students €6.50, Group discounts €6.50, Pensioners (OAP) €6.50, Child €4.50
Guides: Guided tour included with admission.
Facilities: Gift shop, Restaurant or food service
The R480 traverses a lonely area with many remains of ancient structures to Caherconnell, with a fine ring-fort. Near by is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the imposing remains of a chambered tomb. 3mi/5km east is Carran, in an area rich in remains of the past. 1.25mi/2km northeast is Temple Cronan (National Monument), an Early Christian church with grotesque Romanesque heads on the outside walls.
2mi/3km southeast of Temple Cronan near Poulnabrone Dolmen, high above a steep-sided valley, stands Cahercommaun (National Monument), a ninth century stone ring-fort with three circuits of ramparts. The innermost ring, almost exactly circular, contains three chambers; the two outer rings, linked by radial walls, are semicircular, ending at steep drops. Excavations in the 1930s revealed the presence of buildings of various periods within the area of the fort.
At the junction of the R480 and the R476 are the imposing ruins of Leamaneh Castle (National Monument), which consists of a tower house of 1480 with a residential wing built on in 1640.
2.5mi/4km east of Leamaneh Castle, in Killinaboy, are the ruins of an interesting church (16th C.?) with a well-preserved "sheila-na-gig" over the south doorway and the stump of a round tower.
After beautiful Lough Inchiquin and the ruins of Inchiquin Castle (1459), the R476 running southeast from Killinaboy passes Corofin, in a beautiful setting, with good trout and coarse fishing in the numerous local loughs and the River Fergus.
From Leamaneh Castle the R476 leads west to Kilfenora, which was the see of a bishop until the 18th century. The west end of the modest "Cathedral" (12th century, National Monument) is roofed and still used for worship; the roofless choir contains fine 13th and 14th century gravestones.
Among the many crosses at Kilfenora is a high cross carved with a Crucifixion and rich ornament standing in a field 109yd/100m west. The finest is the Doorty Cross, on the east side of which are figures of three bishops and a two-headed bird.
Burren Display Centre
In Kilfenora can be found the Burren Display Center. A video show and a small exhibition inform visitors about the Burren, its flora and fauna, etc. A tea room and information center adjoin.
2mi/3km northeast of Kilfenora the ring-fort of Ballykinvarga, has remains of huts and chevaux-de-frise within a double ring wall.
4.5mi/7km northwest of Kilfenora is Lisdoonvarna, Ireland's best-known spa and a resort very popular with Irish holiday makers (tennis, pitch and putt course, amusement park). The radioactive springs contain sulfur, magnesium, iron and iodine. The Spa Wells Health Centre is open from June to October.
Matchmaking Festival of Ireland
The modern version of this festival aims to provide a good time for visitors to this small town. The festival takes place during the weekends in September, when dozens of different events.The festival is based on the Irish tradition of wealthy landlords bringing their children to this town in hopes of finding spouses. Matchmaking is still offered today, and candidates can fill out lengthy questionnaires and be given names of suitable potential mates.Other events include dances, musical concerts and local gatherings.
5mi/8km west of Lisdoonvarna lies the fishing village of Doolin, with good bathing and fishing. From Doolin Pier fast motor launches sail several times daily in good weather to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.There is an attractive run to the west of Lisdoonvarna, along the coast of the Burren. The R477 follows a winding course northwestward, passing Ballynalackan Castle, descends to the coast and turns north. To the left are the Aran Islands, to the right the western slopes of the hills (Slieve Elva) with the occasional ruins of a church or a stone fort.
From the bare and windswept Black Head, where the coast road from Burren reaches its most northerly point, there are extensive views over Galway Bay. From here the road runs southeast along Ballyvaughan Bay.
On the R477 from Ballyvaughan Bay, to the left can be seen Gleninagh Castle (16th C., National Monument), a four-story tower house with corner turrets. Beyond this the road comes to Ballyvaughan.