Tag Archives: the Burren

Dunguaire and Ailwee Caves

Ireland 2007–Dunguaire & Ailwee Caves

After Carrowmore, on Wednesday Oct. 3, we headed toward the Burren. It was raining in Carrowmore but the weather was wonderfully clear and fairly warm once we hit the west coast. Here is where the maps screwed us up quite a bit. Dunguaire was shown as being on the other side of Kinvara, a small little fishing village. But instead it was right at the edge of the village. Nothing was really placed correctly so we had to ask as usual. Outside of Dunquaire castle was a cute little bird just singing his head off. It really set the joyful atmosphere of the place.

Dunguaire castle was closed, as of the day before, alas, but the water was beautiful, a deep azure and choppy. I would definitely go back to actually see Kinvara the next time around as we whizzed through it. It took meandering along very curvy roads and a few wrong turns to find the Ailwee Caves. These were carved by underground rivers millions of years ago. European brown bears were thought to be extinct in Ireland for the last 1200 years but they found bones in a hibernation spot that date back only 1000 years. Still it’s sad to think how many large species once populated Ireland and were wiped out in the past 5000 years.

The caves were quite large and there were deposits forming stalagmites and stalactites. White fossils graced the brown and black stone. But they really rushed you through straight out of and back into the gift store of course. There wasn’t really time even to take a proper picture and for the price they charged (not an OPW site) they could have given a few more minutes.

We drove through the Burren (or Burren), which looks like a volcanoe blorped out mud millions of years ago and then it solidified. There’s a picture in here of this and you can see the top of the hill is grey, just like the mud. Because of the stone the Burren was written about through the ages as being inhospitable with no land to grow on and yet people lived there. Rock and rock walls abounded.

Driving into this area reminded me a bit of the Okanagan in BC. It had a certain craggy austerity in parts but I loved this area. Tomorrow, more of the Burren and surrounding area.

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Filed under Culture, driving, environment, history, Ireland, memories, nature, travel, weather

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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