Tag Archives: Ailwee Caves

Dysert O’Dea, Ireland

We accidentally found Dysert O’Dea (pronounced O’Day) as we left the Burren, in county Clare. Dysert O’Dea was in the guidebook as having this wonderful doorway. But it was at the end of the day and Oct. so as we drove up to this rather small castle, we knew it was closed. There was a guy sitting in a Hummer like truck parked at the front of the castle, built in 1480. He was nice enough to move out of the way so we could take pictures.

Then he told us where the high cross and church were that we might very well have missed if we’d driven out. We drove to a cattle gate and pulled to the side of the road. This was a real farm road so in some ways it was much bigger than the hedge and stone wall encroached main roads.

Ireland 2007–Dysert O’Dea

The castle was newer than the church which was newer than St. Tola’s high cross and the ruins of the tower, which were from the 12th century. The cross holds an carving of Christ and of a bishop (St. Tola) who founded the monastery centuries before, I believe.The doorway was in good shape and very cool with all the faces. Each one was different and some human, others animals. There was a whimsical simplicity to it, and an individuality that made me think some of those faces represent particular people of the time.

I’m not sure if we were in the Burren anymore or just out of it but there was such a distortion of time for us looking at the maps. A map of all of BC and a map of Ireland are the same size on paper. But a one-inch distance on a BC map could be 2 hours of driving, whereas on the Irish map it’s probably 15 minutes.

Which means we managed to go from Carrowmore in the rainy morning, to Dunguaire, Kinvara, Ailwee Caves, Poulnabrone, Burren, Carran Church, Dysert O’Dea castle and church all in one day. We were getting into the very tail of the day. We rarely stopped for lunch. After Dysert O’Dea we drove to the town of Ennis and found a place for the evening.

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Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen and Carran Church

After we left the Ailwee caves we wended our way through the Burren. There are rock walls absolutely everywhere, and then the Burren stone with plants in each hardened rivulet. The walls are of stone stacked vertically or horizontally, some mortared, many not. They could be ten years old or a thousand years old and speak of the ruggedness of the land. We actually passed a sign for an old, stone, ring fort but because there were so many walls we couldn’t find it, as it was inseperable from the rest of the walls. We also went down a wrong road and then had to backtrack. We only knew we’d reached the same spot when we came across some white bagged hay (or something) since the hills looked so much alike. They also reminded me a bit of the Okanagan in BC with the rolling, pastoral hills.
Ireland 2007–Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen & Carran Church

We had to drive around a few sheep. They proved why they have remained at a low rung on the evolutionary ladder. Some didn’t bother to move. Others would run frantically along the road (all with their butts dabbed in green or red paint) and then stop and chew. It’s like their wee brains went, Ack! A metal monster! Oooh, look nice greens to chew. Two second memories, I tell you.

I’ve already gushed about the Burren but there is a sense of such age and endurance in this area, and beauty mixed with the severity of the landscape in spots that I can certainly see how tales of fairy folk would spring up. Poulnabrone was down one road and we almost missed it too, except it stood a little above the hill. This is called a portal tomb because it looks to be a doorway, perhaps to another realm. This megalithic structure dates back 5000 years and has stood against humans and elements all that time. The ground around the dolmen was amazing and I would definitely see this again for its sheer alieness and stunning landscape. Walking  was a bit treacherous and required looking where you were going but there was all sorts of flora growing in those dips and furrows.

The day was winding down but we still had an hour or two of sunlight. As we were driving out of the Burren we found Carran Church. I couldn’t find much infomration on the church but I’m guessing it’s at least 400 years old (part of it is 15th century) and it’s near Ballyvaughn. One of the pictures shows the brown signs that marked scenic or historical sites. Not a big ruin, it was near someone’s home so I pulled into the driveway (remember, no shoulders on these roads) and took some pictures. The wall had the usual stone stile to climb over. I also met some stinging nettle (through my yoga pants) when I went around the outer wall. Ended up with a burning thigh for a few hours.

Of all the areas in Ireland that we visited I liked the Burren best. The bays near Kinvara were of the deepest blue and it was just so peaceful and pretty in its own way. And onward we went. We were yet to do Dysert O’Dea before we called it a day.

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The Stones of Ireland: II

Continued from the previous day’s post.

Kinbane CastleWe travelled to the Cliffs of Moher in northwestern Ireland, the tallest in Europe. Rugged and impressive, they remained formidable to drive up and to look down. The sheer audacity of Kinbane castle in Northern Ireland built down a very steep hill right on the promontory of the North Sea kept it impenetrable for years. Out near Kinvara and in the Burren were the Ailwee Caves, great underground caverns carved millennia ago by a subterranean river, fossils and minerals sparkling like the realm of Hades. Cool, pitch black except when they turned on the lights, and a den for extinct European brown bears, their might was in their endurance and solidity.

The Burren was as impressive in its way as the Giants Causeway. At some point in the ancient past a mountain or volcano erupted, spewing tons of flowing mud down mountain and hill. Eventually it solidified into grey rock but still has that look of a mud flow. Smooth in spots, rippled in others, there are dips that are treacherous to walk over but where wind and rain have blown deposits of soil over the centuries. There in those protected trenches are a myriad of plant life, some uniqe to that area.

The Burren

The Burren butts up to a rugged shoreline near Kinvara, but on the higher hills it is barren stone, short shrubs and the tiny plants that grow in their coves. Everywhere through this area are stone walls and hill forts that were stacked by hand centuries ago. In fact the stone walls are abundant throughout Ireland but rule supreme in the Burren. The stones might be stacked on their edges, resting against each other, placed flat on top of each other, or made with their widest sides facing out. Some are mortared, and they are ageless. They could have been built a week ago or a thousand years ago. They were used as natural boundaries, pens for cattle and sheep and as fortifications. I’ve been told that they now work at protecting species of flora and fauna throughout the emerald isle, working as borders where invasive species don’t encroach.

Upon the Burren with its hard, alien looking surface, unable to really support any crop, somehow people eked out a life, for centuries. And topping it was Poulnabrone Dolmen, a passage tomb made of four giant slabs of stone with a fifth resting atop them like a table. You can look through beneath the table stone, from one world perhaps to the next. It has stood for over 5,000 years, a part of every person’s life who lived upon the Burren.

All lands have stone in one form or another. Rock is the foundation of our world from its magma core to the volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts that show our planet is alive. From sand and pebble to rock and boulder, stones have always been there to support and shelter. The Irish reuse the stones from any old building torn down, reworking it into something new.

The strong sense of the history of the stones, from the monasteries and castles to the cemetery tombs and headstones, to the walls and hill forts, they all spoke of a true Irish intimacy with stone. There is history, life and death. There is art, utilitarian purpose and mystery. And most of all, there is community; thousand of years of life with each person using what had come before, the ruins or the dead not forgotten but integrated into continuing family rituals. Ireland truly taught me the endurance of time and of stories shown in its stone, its very foundation. stone walls

The picture at the top of my blog is taken from the top of Blarney castle. All pictures are copyrighted.

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