Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Burren

One of the reasons I'd chosen to do a tour with Vagabond Tours (besides the back roads they promised and the flexibility they offered) was the option to visit the Arran Islands.  But when we had to choose whether to visit the islands or stay on the bus and drive around Galway Bay and visit The Burren, I just didn't feel up to the ferry ride.  Maybe the fresh air might have cleared my head but I have no regrets.  The four of us left on the bus had a great day.  Thank heavens for digital cameras and being able to check up on what came first as the day is a bit of a haze. 

Colourful little boats opposite where the ferry departs for the Arran Isles.

Mid morning we stopped at Spideal on the banks of Galway Bay.  In the little craft village 10 Irish artisans design, create and sell their handcrafts.  We almost had the whole place to ourselves.  One of my grand-daughters will be able to see where I bought her gift.

 I took a wander up the street in search of coffee, past an example of what happens when a thatch roof is not well maintained.

And its lovely little neighbour, sitting demurely behind a big, rough stone wall.

I couldn't resist entering the little stone church in the main street that I couldn't get a photo of because of power lines and trees.  An excuse to sit quietly by myself.  Only Day 2 and already I was starting to feel "crowded" by people.  Don't worry, the feeling passed as I became more comfortable with the group and felt free to wander off by myself whenever I felt so inclined.

Spidael is one of the Gaeltacht villages in Ireland where the Irish language is spoken as the first language.  The residents get special grants for this.  To keep the language alive with the younger folk, each summer, groups of Irish teenagers visit Spiddal for three-week Irish language courses.

I don't know whether one says on to the Burren, into it or just to.  Whatever, there we were in time for lunch.  The word "Burren" comes from an Irish word "Boíreann" meaning a rocky place. This is an extremely appropriate name when you consider the lack of soil cover and the extent of exposed rock.  Our tour guide must have mentioned a Cromwellian quote otherwise I wouldn't have been inspired to look it up. In 1651 a Cromwellian Army Officer said, "of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing."  Sums it up perfectly.  Apparently the ground between the rocky hillsides is also very fertile.  

I rarely take photos of food but the counter just inside the door where we had lunch was too tempting to resist.  

On to an after lunch stroll through the quite well preserved late 12th century Corcomroe Abbey.  There were three or four other people there when we arrived but they soon left and the four of us were left to take it all in.  It's in a lonely, isolated spot, overlooked by the barren hills, nothing detracts from it's beauty.  In the same way as there was nothing to distract the monks from their prayers I guess.

The nave and western wall.

Side wall of the nave

I couldn't do my sums, it took me ages to figure out this gravestone.  Trust the Irish to confuse me.

I said before it was the back roads nature of this tour that appealed to me.  Each tour guide/driver has a list of approved places that he can take his load of tourists.  He can assess the interests, age and fitness levels of his guests, take the weather into account and adjust his schedule accordingly. A bus any larger than the 14 seater on which we were traveling would not have been able to negotiate the roads we took that afternoon.  Luckily the only traffic we encountered were push bikes whose riders were obliged to stop and step off the road to let us pass.  In places like in this shot that wasn't too difficult but in others where the trees and shrubs reached over the sides of the roads, they all but disappeared from sight. 

We were off to see the last remains at Cahermacnaughton, an ancient fort that was once used as a school of law and then continue on similar roads to Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ireland’s most ancient and iconic archaeological monument. This tomb has stood here for almost 6,000 years, built by the local Burren community of the time. The name Poulnabrone literally means 'The hole of the sorrows'.

The thin capstone sits on two 1.8m (6ft) high portal stones to create a chamber in a 9m (30ft) low cairn. The eastern portal stone was replaced in 1985, following a discovery that it was unfortunately cracked; excavations during the repair showed that this site dated back to about 2500 BC. Crikey!

Uncremated remains were found in the chamber.  There were the main body bones of one newborn baby, six juveniles, and 16-22 adults. Only one of the adults lived beyond 40 years, and the majority were under 30 when they died.  They obviously worked hard and were used to carrying heavy loads as evidenced by the arthritic condition of many of the neck and shoulder bones. Analysis of the teeth revealed that they suffered from periods of either malnutrition or infections, especially between the ages of three and six.  They had lived a hard physical life and ate a coarse diet; it was further proved that the bones were naturally defleshed elsewhere (by exposure or burial) and only then moved within the chamber at Poulnabrone.  The radiocarbon dates from Poulnabrone indicate that the burials were deposited at regular intervals over a period of 600 years between 3800 and 3200 BC.  This suggests that the monument was probably a significant place of burial where only certain members of the community were allowed to be interred.

Evidence of violence was also encountered amongst the burial remains.  A depressed fracture, possibly caused by a stone projectile was identified in one of the skulls, while a broken rib bone may have been caused by an aggressive blow. Even more startling, a fragment of a flint projectile point, probably an arrow head was found embedded in a hip bone. There was no trace of infection or healing so the wound must have occurred around the time of death.

Isn't it wonderful what modern science can teach us about the past? 

We stopped at the top of a steep hill to look back over the fertile valley locked between those rocky hillsides.

It turned out to be a view with live entertainment.  These two lads would have appreciated a drink of water as much as a few euros, I think.  It was a very warm afternoon.

After we'd collected the Arran Isle visitors from the bay, our guide decided that as the sun was shining brilliantly, it was still warm late in the day and we were very close to Liscannor where we would stay the night, we would call into the Cliffs of Moher, which was on the agenda for the next morning.  The cliffs had been towards the top of my list of things to do in Ireland.  They rank amongst the top visited tourist sites in Ireland, and receive almost one million visitors a year. It seemed like half that number were there that afternoon!

Spectacular? Breath-taking? Stunning? Absolutely!  The cliffs were all of that but I was too off colour to have the patience to jostle others for a viewpoint, too tired to climb the zillions of stairs for a better view, just not in the mood.  I felt impatient with all the fences and barriers, felt I'd arrived 25 years too late.  I admit the powers that be had done their best, the Visitors Centre is built into the hillside and signs (signs, signs, more signs) proudly announced environmentally sensitive renewable energy systems including geothermal this and solar that.  I took one photo (that didn't turn out very well) and skulked off to find a quiet corner.  I ventured to the far side of the carpark packed with cars and buses which I thought would made a good windbreak and found a lovely little meditation room, warm and restful. 


  1. You had a super tour and recorded the sights and history to make a very interesting post.

  2. Fantastic photos. The Cliffs of Moher are something special, especially on a bright blue sunny-sky day. We were lucky enough to take a cruise over to the Aran Islands and it returned via the Cliffs so we got to see them from the sea as well. They absolutely towered over us.

  3. For a bad day you really nailed it.
    I will have to come back as there is too much to appreciate at one sitting.

  4. Broken down churches and monasteries always make me a bit mournful. You had a lovely day.


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