The Burren: Ireland's Karst Landscape

Updated on February 21, 2020
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Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. Follow her on Instagram @ValpoMedia

A view of Corcomroe Abbey, located in the Burren, Ireland
A view of Corcomroe Abbey, located in the Burren, Ireland | Source

What Is the Burren?

The Burren is a vast (and beautiful) expanse of exposed bedrock located in western Ireland. There are similar landscapes throughout the world, but the Burren is particularly unique as it's one of the most extensive karst landscapes in Europe (250 square kilometers in size!). Most of this rocky region is within County Clare, but some parts stretch into the southern part of County Galway.

The area is home to many unique geological features including caves, sea cliffs, and just pure bedrock. The Burren is also of archaeological importance as there are several megalithic tombs, portal dolmens, and ring forts in the area most likely due to the region's sheer abundance of stone.

Few people live in the Burren and those that do mostly speak Irish. There are no cities within the Burren, but there are many villages that encircle the area including Kinvara, Ennis, Spanish Point, Doolin, Ballyvaughan, and Lisdoonvarna.

The karst meadow of The Burren, Ireland
The karst meadow of The Burren, Ireland | Source

Historical Sites Throughout the Burren

The Burren has a large number of archaeological sites which include the Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tomb, whose name comes from the Irish words 'Poll na mBrón' meaning "hole of sorrows."

Another favorite historical site is the Kilfenora Cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, and the high cross, both of which are located in Kilfenora; the Cahercommaun triple ring fort, and the Caherconnell stone fort, which houses an archaeological field school.

The Corcomroe Abbey, whose name comes from the Irish 'Mainistir Chorco Modhruadh,' is a popular attraction located in the northern area of The Burren, just east of Ballyvaughan. The Abbey was once a Cistercian monastery. It was built in the early 13th century from local limestone. The monastery was commonly known as "St. Mary of the Fertile Rock" in reference to the area's mineral-rich soil.

The Poulnabrone dolmen is a portal tomb located approximately 5 miles south of Ballyvaughan, Ireland.
The Poulnabrone dolmen is a portal tomb located approximately 5 miles south of Ballyvaughan, Ireland. | Source

Did You know?

The Burren is home to one of the largest wild goat populations in Europe.

Caves: Aillwee, Doolin, and Pollnagollum

The Burren is known for its caves as it has the highest concentration of Ireland's known caves. The most famous cave here is Aillwee Cave whose name comes from the Irish Pluaiseanna na hAille Buí which means "yellow cliff."

The cave is known for its underground river, its waterfall, and astounding stalactites and stalagmites. While the cave has nearly a kilometer of passages, only about 300 meters are open to the public which are accessed through a man-made entrance.

Doolin Cave (or Pol an Ionain) is located on the western edge of the Burren near the coastal village of Doolin. The name comes from the Irish 'Poll an Eidhneáin' which is said to mean "Ivy Cliff Cave." This cave is known for the "Great Stalactite" as this is one of the world's longest known free-hanging stalactites at a reported 24 feet in length.

Pollnagollum, which is Irish for "cave of the pigeons", is the longest known cave in Ireland at around 10 miles in length. This cave is popular among spelunkers as the area has not been developed for tourism. Pollnagollum has many winding passages that interconnect in various ways, which makes for a unique caving experience. Most of the visitors enter at the Pollnagollum entrance site and exit at the southern end of the Poulelva pot.

The Ailladie sea wall in Ireland is a popular locale for many rock climbers.
The Ailladie sea wall in Ireland is a popular locale for many rock climbers. | Source

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The Ailladie Sea Wall

While the Cliffs of Moher are situated outside of the Burren, visitors to the area often also include a trip out to the cliffs. Perhaps this is because they hail as Ireland's number one tourist destination. However, the Cliffs of Moher aren't the only cliffs in the area.

Ailladie is an area on the coastal edge of the Burren that is sandwiched between the village of Fanore on the north and by the village of Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher to the south. This particular area is highly popular among medium-grade and high-grade rock climbers and is one of Ireland's most famous rock climbing areas.

Half of the Ailladie seawall is accessible from its rock platform known as Dancing Ledges. The other half is only accessible during low tide, and even then is only reached by hopping from boulder to boulder (or by rappelling.)

Dryas octopetala (or mountain avens) is a flower often found in Arctic-alpine regions, but they can also be found within the Burren.
Dryas octopetala (or mountain avens) is a flower often found in Arctic-alpine regions, but they can also be found within the Burren. | Source

Burren Must-Sees

  • Poulnabrone dolmen
  • Kilfenora Cathedral
  • Cahercommaun triple ring fort
  • Caherconnell stone fort
  • Corcomroe Abbey
  • Aillwee Cave
  • Doolin Cave
  • Pollnagollum
  • Ailladie sea wall
  • Doolin music scene
  • Burren Center
  • Burren Perfumery

Did You Know?

The minks that were first introduced to the Burren were escapees from local fur farms.

Burren National Park

The Burren National Park, located in the southeastern corner of the landscape in a government park for the public and conservation efforts. The park contains each of the significant habitats found within The Burren including cliffs, fens, grassland, limestone, and hazel scrub.

The park also contains walking trails and guided walks for anyone interested in learning the exciting features of the area. While hiking the trails, you may spot some of the vegetation unique to the area or some of the local fauna such as rabbits, badgers, minks, and otters.

The karst landscape of the Burren overlooking Galway Bay.
The karst landscape of the Burren overlooking Galway Bay. | Source

Culture: Music, Festivals, Pubs, and Shopping

The Burren area is known for its rich musical heritage as singing, dancing, and storytelling have all played a significant role in the lives of the area's inhabitants for centuries. If you've ever read Irish folklore or heard traditional Irish music, the chances are that it came from this part of Ireland. Doolin, in particular, has a strong musical culture with music festivals, workshops, and, of course, the pub scene.

The Burren Centre, in Kilfenora, is a locale created to teach the area's visitors about the geography and the history of the area. The center also has a craft shop where crafts which are hand-made locally, are available for purchase.

Those who end up smack dab in the middle of the Burren near the village of Carran should check out The Burren Perfumery. Organic products such as balms, soaps, creams, candles, oils, salts, and fragrances are hand-made from local flora and sold here.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Melanie


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      • georgescifo profile image


        7 years ago from India

        Amazing landscape beauty, tombs and ancient sculpture. This rock filled travel destination in Ireland seems to be worth a visit.. Thanks for sharing this..

      • parentsreview profile image


        8 years ago from Lansdowne, PA

        I love Ireland. I visited there years ago, and I meant to get to go to the Cliffs of Moyer, but I never made it. You've made me miss it and want to go back. Thanks for all the detail. This is a great hub!

      • Julz09 profile image


        8 years ago

        Wow!! i love it Mel :) Fascinating pictures, wouldn't mind going there some day.

      • profile image


        9 years ago

        I have long dreamed of visiting Ireland, especially in the western part. This is a very interesting place. Thank you for detailed information. Do you have more information on the Internet about Ireland? Where can I look?

      • melbel profile imageAUTHOR


        9 years ago from Midwest, USA

        I'm glad my hub was able to spark that interest in going to Ireland! You could write a hub on the dolmen in your area!

      • Les Trois Chenes profile image

        Les Trois Chenes 

        9 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

        I never made it to Ireland, though your article has put it back into mind! The dolmen caught my attention as we have the same things here in Limousin. I have a picture of one on my lens A Scrapbook of Limousin France. I've been to see another one near here, but haven't put it on line yet.

      • Hello, hello, profile image

        Hello, hello, 

        9 years ago from London, UK

        Thank you for such a detailed hub. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

      • H P Roychoudhury profile image

        H P Roychoudhury 

        9 years ago from Guwahati, India

        These are the history of mystery of natural Universe.


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