Thursday, 8 March 2012

Colossal Cliffs & Breathtaking Burren

We set out early today for t'was a grand day to visit the spectacular Cliffs of Moher & drive around the limestone landscape of the Burren.
Just out of the sleepy wee village of Doolin [sleepy by day that is, lively by night!], we passed the solitary Doonagore Castle, a 16th century round tower house, which overlooks the village.  During the retreat of the Spanish Amarda in 1588, one of the fleeing ships was wrecked off the coast & 170 survivors were captured & hanged at the Doonagore Castle. It is now privately owned by an American family.

Doonagore Castle, Doolin, Co. Clare
The Cliffs of Moher are just a short 8km drive from Doolin, so within no time at all we were there where we found waiting for us at the office at Moher, another complimentary entry ticket arranged by the lovely Susan of Ireland's Hidden Gems 

I must admit, I was starting to feel a tad guilty that we had been gifted so much for this trip but felt very thankful & humbled by everyone's generosity. 
Many times I've had to stop & pinch myself - 'was this really happening to me & what had I ever done to deserve the good fortune of winning such a fabulous trip to Ireland'? 

O'Brien's Tower, Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
The Cliffs of Moher... what can I say...magnificient! colossal! breathtaking! majestic!
One of the sights I most anticipated on my trip to Ireland, was the Cliffs of Moher.  I had dreamed of standing on the very spot I did to have my photo taken, the cliffs stretching out along the coast behind me.    And now, I was actually here. 

In 1835  a local landowner Cornelius O’Brien built a gothic tower near the highest point (214m) looking out toward the Cliffs, for the sole purpose of providing a viewing point for the visitors that were already flocking to see this iconic panorama.

The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
The Cliffs rise to over 700ft & stretch out to the south for 5 miles.  And I read somewhere recently, that they attract near to a staggering one million visitors a year!  Now that I'm here, I can understand why. 

The magnificient Moher Cliffs, Co. Clare

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Near the Cliffs of Moher, there are signs warning visitors to stay back from the edge.  Not that I needed any reminding, even metres back behind the barricades, I was still a bit nervous.   A lot of people choose to ignore this wise advice & a few have fallen off.   Sadly however, those who have fallen off, have done so intentionally.  

Stating the Obvious!  -  Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

It was hard to drag ourselves away from this amazing location, but we had to move on if we were to make the most of this beautiful Irish weather that we were being Blessed with.

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Stone Bridge & ruins of Dough Castle, Lahinch, Co. Clare
Stone fence Gate, Co. Clare
Donkeys, Ennistymon, Co. Clare

Donkey Foal, Ennistymon, Co. Clare

Ennistymon Falls, County Clare

A view of the Ennistymon Falls, from near the Falls Hotel

Heading East we drove into Ennistymon & stopped briefly at the Falls Hotel where we parked the car & walked along the footpath to the tumbling waters of the River Cullenagh.  Here you get a great view of the famous Falls as they cascade over a ridge of rock just below the bridge which crosses the narrow main street of Ennistymon.

A Load of Bull
From Ennistymon, we followed the R481 through Kilfenora.  It's near Kilfenora somewhere that you can see the house where the TV series Father Ted was filmed, if you have a map to direct you to the spot, which we didn't.  We followed the signs to Caherconnell & Carran [R480] & passed by the ruins of Leamaneh Castle.

Leamaneh Castle, nr. Kilfenora, Co. Clare
Leamaneh Castle was constructed in two parts; the first was a tower house built around 1480AD and the second part was a manor house, built in 1648.  It was owned by the O'Brien dynasty who moved from Leamaneh Castle into Dromoland Castle around the late 1600's, which we had visited yesterday.  The O'Brien's ruled most of Clare for several hundred years & occupied many of the biggest castles, such as Dromoland & Bunratty.

The Burren limestone, Co. Clare
Another of the unforgettable memories I'll have of County Clare is the Burren.  The word Burren comes from the gaelic word 'Boíreann', meaning a rocky place & when you see this amazing landscape, you'll understand why.   This dramatic lunar-like limestone landscape covers over 250 square kilometres & in places this is all that is visible for as far as the eye can see.  The limestone layers of this land were thought to have been first formed on a tropical sea floor about 335 million years ago!   Your initial reaction when you see this barren landscape is, "surely, nothing grows here".  But as we were to find out, the Burren is the habitat for an incredible array of plants & wildflowers where alpine, arctic & mediterranean plants grow side by side.  Throughout the Burren we came across small patches of green fertile land where stock were able to be grazed.

Limestone Karst, The Burren, Co. Clare
Carran, The Burren, Co. Clare
In a remote corner of this unique landscape & it's wild plants, is a remarkable wee business called The Burren Perfumery.  If you are planning on seeing the popular tourist attractions of  the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb & Caherconnell Stone Fort, then you have to veer off to Carran to inhale the gorgeous smells of this lovely place.   When I first heard about the Perfumery, I thought, 'Nah, might give that a miss'.  But thankfully, on this day, we decided to follow the signs which lead us there.   You do wonder what it is that is out here, because it does seem like you're in the middle of nowhere, the roads become very narrow, there are no road markings & the scary thought of getting lost in this place, especially at night, did cross my mind.  I can't rave about this little shop enough.  The scents that greet you as soon as you walk through the door are heavenly.  As well as an array of perfumes, soaps, shampoos & even teas, there is a photo display & a 10 minute video on the flora & geology of the Burren for you to watch.   As I write this, I add another thin layer of Honey & Beeswax Organic Balm to my lips & feel them soothe immediately - one of my favourite purchases from the Burren Perfumery.

Hiding behind trees, The Burren, Co. Clare
The Burren, Co. Clare
Nearby Caherconnell Stone Fort was closed so we drove on a kilometre to the famous Poulnabrone Portal Tomb.  

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare

Poulnabrone Dolmen
Whenever I've seen photos of the Burren, there looming larger than life would be the Poulnabrone Dolmen.  It's certainly one of the best known of all the Dolmens in Ireland, dating back to around 3,000BC.  I'd seen many photos of Poulnabrone & was expecting this massive structure, especially after seeing the Brownshill Dolmen in County Carlow, so I was surprised to find it was a lot smaller than I had imagined.  Standing just under 2 metres high,  excavations in the 1980's revealed that 16-22 adults and 6 children had been buried beneath the dolmen, so it's not surprising to find that 'Poulnabrone' translates into gaelic as 'The hole of the Sorrows'.

The Tea Junction Cafe & Signpost, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
From here we travelled on up to Ballyvaughan to find a place to get a snack.  We found the perfect spot, a delightful little cafe called The Tea Junction on the main street, right beside that well known & very busy signpost which you see in lots of Ireland tourist brochures.  As we arrived at the cafe, it appeared the owner, a lovely woman who's name escapes me, was packing up for the day, in fact the Closed sign was already on the door.  However, spotting us staring through the window, she kindly opened up and offered us her freshly baked scones with blackcurrent jam & a pot of good Irish tea.  

The signpost standing right next to the Tea Junction Cafe is probably one of the most photographed in Ireland, with it's cluster of signs pointing in every which direction.  Just last year, the National Roads Authority decided to remove the now famous signpost because it was a road hazard, without consultation with any of the local residents of Ballyvaughan!  There was such an outcry from the locals, tour operators & tourists alike, that it was eventually put back up again.

Newtown Castle, nr Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
Just out of Ballyvaugh we stop at Newtown Castle, a fortified tower house which looks more like a rocket sitting on it's launching pad.   Built in the 16th century it was another of the O'Brien family strongholds but later passed into the possession of the local O'Loghlen family who inhabited it until the end of the 1800's.   It then fell into ruin but was restored and is now the Centre for the Burren College of Arts.

The Matchmaker's Pub, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare
Heading back to Doolin, we drove through the village of Lisdoonvarna, famous for it's yearly Matchmaking Festival which draws over 20,000 people during the whole month of September in a quest  to find the love of a Irishman or woman.   

Fisher Street, Doolin, Co. Clare
Back in Doolin, we set about finding somewhere to have a meal and decided on the Fitzpatrick's Bar.  Here we met a young woman who worked at the Bar & told us a couple of her friends were working in New Zealand at present.  When I asked her where?, she said Geraldine!!  Ironically, my wee home town.  And the guy they were working for just happened to be a distant relative to boot.  Where else except in New Zealand could you find "2° of separation" ....   well, maybe Ireland I reckon.

Sean, our chatty B&B owner, had assured us that Gus O'Connor's Pub would definitely be lively with traditional music tonight & we were relieved to find that they had started early, instead of the usual time of 9pm.  By 10pm I was ready to fall into bed.  It had been another big day & I was feeling now, that the last 7 days were also starting to catch up on me.   

Gus O'Connor's Pub, Fisher Street, Doolin

Musicians at Gus O'Connor's Pub, Doolin
A great Discover Ireland video for you to watch is this one about Doolin & the Burren area.


  1. oops . delete my previous comment! You did find the Portal tomb abd lost more besides. I am so enjoying this blog. We were there the last week of February for the last 4 years and i love it. Sadly when we go most places are closed up until just before St Patricks day.

  2. Thank you for dropping by my blog Jackie. I'm pleased you're enjoying reading my ramblings & looking at the photos. I found travelling around Ireland in Spring perfect last year. We had the best weather & yes, some places were closed but not that many that it mattered.

  3. totally love you're pics & infor - have shared your pics on Pinterest - thank you