Visiting Ireland: Burren memories

Sitting on the narrow beach looking across Galway Bay at a place I later discovered was The Burren, I felt like I’d been there before. Not the usual flashing déjà vu feeling. I felt like I’d sat on that spot hundreds of years before waiting for a boat to come get me.

The Burren

The dolman stone at Poulnabrone, photo/Steve Collins

A few days later, I went to The Burren for the first time. I’ve been back two other times with Steve. This unique ecosystem extends from the southwestern tip of County Galway into western County Clare. The limestone karst formations here hold a diverse range of plants from alpine to arctic. Over 70% of Ireland’s 900 native species can be found in this area covering about 250 square kilometers. The rocky land is unusual for verdant Ireland.

The west of Ireland is magical, abounding in what someone I know calls “thin places.” These are places where two worlds meet.  For me, there was nothing like The Burren. It felt like I’d come home, a home I’d never been to before, at least in this lifetime. There are two places I remember going to where I broke out into spontaneous tears. Both are in The Burren, not far from each other. Over and over I’d experience a sense of having been here before. It was downright eerie. It was also one of the most special places I’ve ever visited. Come share some of my Burren memories.

The Buren

Corcomroe Abbey, photo/Steve Collins

Corcomroe Abby, a church ruin dating to the 12th century, set at the end of a quiet country lane, was one of those places for me. It was the first spot I broke into tears. I can’t tell you why, if just happened. Even if you don’t have my sense memory, this ruin at the end of a quiet country lane is worth a visit.

Poulnabrone, a dolman stone, less than a 10-minute drive south of the Abby, is the other place that caused tears. These two large stone slabs mark the burial place for around 22 Neolithic people, none over 40 years old. Can you imaging 15 or 20 being middle age?  I had a strong feeling I’d been here before and that it was more than a burial site. I had a strong reaction to sharing it with other people. I really wanted to be alone.

The Burren

Cliffs of Moher, photo/courtesy Travels with Sweeney

The first time I went to the Cliffs of Moher, we parked and walked to the cliffs, which hang steeply over the ocean. The view is of the Arran Islands, and beyond that the long Atlantic stretch that ends in America. The next time I went, it had become very commercial and they were charging admission. There are less touristy and as beautiful spots in Ireland to find a cliff hanging over the sea.

We spent one night in Lisdoonvarna, an old spa town known for its Matchmaker’s Festival held at the end of August each year.  We loved visiting the Burren Smokehouse there and taking Away a package of delicious smoked salmon. My other find was a really long hand-knit scarf at a craft shop somewhere out in the countryside. I’d been searching the entire trip for something to wear with my hand-woven jacket that I bought on my first trip to Ireland. Search over. Somewhat worse for years of wear, this beautiful, moss green scarf, the color of the Irish countryside is still in my closet.

Tha Burren

Doonagore Castle near Doolin, County Clare, photo/Steve Collins

We spent the next night in a small B & B we spotted as we were driving down the road towards Doolin. It was owned by a teacher and his wife.  Doolin is a small town known for its traditional Irish music scene. Our host was also a musician and we went to hear him play at McDermott’s Pub. Family owned since 1867, they offer trad music sessions nightly from spring through fall. In winter they are usually weekends only.

We spent almost an entire day exploring church ruins; they are everywhere here. We had to search out Kilnaboy Church with its pagan Sheela na Gig (a primitive Celtic goddess) carv over one of the doors and visit the nearby holy well hidden in the woods. Kilmacduagh Abbey with its round tower and cluster of buildings on a quiet country road near Gort in County Galway was another very special place. We had all these places to ourselves.  We explored more, but the names elude me almost 15 years later.

The Burren

Kilmacduagh Abbey in The Burren, photo/Steve Collins

We spent a few days The Burren on our last trip in 2008. We stayed with friends in the small hamlet of Balindereen, County Galway, in the southwest part of The Burren. We got to go back to Corcomroe and a few other places, but mostly caught up with each other. We’ll be back!

Do you have any memories of The Burren?  Do you have a place in Ireland that spoke to you?

Read more about our memories of Ireland.
Another view of Corcomroe Abby.

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13 Responses to “Visiting Ireland: Burren memories”

  1. Vera Marie Badertscher
    February 4, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    You touched a chord with this article. I loved the Burren, and was touched by Poulnabrone, also. Another place we discovered on the southern edge of the Burren (County Clare) was the Craggenowen Project. You can read about it here: http://atravelerslibrary.com/2012/10/11/photo-thursday/
    And, if you haven’t discovered the Lady Judge mysteries, you’ll enjoy their medieval setting in the Burren and a look at life in the Middle Ages. (You can do a search at A Traveler’s Library to see a review).
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..What Is Your Alibi For Travel?My Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 4, 2013 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks. Vera. It really is a special place. I hadn’t heard of the project, will check it out along with the mysteries.

  2. Susan Shawn
    February 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    I know very little about Ireland, except that my ancestors on my father’s side are Scotch/Irish. Once I heard the name of Connemara, and with only the name, I burst into tears that lasted for hours. I just wept and wept, and had no idea why. I’ve never been there. A friend born in Ireland told me years later that people in Connemara had died of starvation and had suffered horribly there. It’s odd, isn’t it?

    • Billie Frank
      February 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      That’s a great story, Susan. Go if you can. Connemara will be in an upcoming post here. It’s a beautiful area. People all over Ireland died from starvation during the Famine. There are a lot of abandoned homes around Galway (the gateway to Connemara) and Mayo that are said to be “Famine houses,” places just left by families who could no longer live on the land and survive. It was a very sad (and avoidable) time.

  3. Cathy Sweeney
    February 10, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I’ve got so many fond memories of Ireland and you really hit on a big one with McDermott’s Pub in Doolin. We had a wonderful evening there listening to the music and talking to the friendly locals. The Burren is so dramatically beautiful. Can’t wait to go back.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Skiing North Lake TahoeMy Profile

  4. Jonny Blair
    February 19, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    I really like this article Billie – places that are remote and off the beaten track are often the best travel experiences. Despite being Irish myself, I have never been to any of these places.

    • Billie Frank
      February 19, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Thanks for the kind words, Jonny. You’re too busy off seeing the world.

  5. Sam
    September 15, 2016 at 6:26 am #

    What an amazing place! Have you ever been in Spain? If not, you should. Absolutely. You should travel to Andalucia and write one of your great articles.

    • Billie Frank
      September 18, 2016 at 8:57 am #

      We’d love to visit Spain! Just need someone to buy our airplane tichets-lol.

  6. Linda Josephson
    March 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    The Burren in Clare is the favorite place for both my husband and I, we have visited there many times. Corcomroe has to be our favorite place in the Burren. Have been there both when it is sunny and stormy. And every time there is a deep feeling of peace that came over both us. For me it was like it came up through my body from the ground. There is something magical about Ireland.

    • Billie Frank
      March 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

      I totally agree about The Burren being a special place. Corcomroe and Poul na Brone are my favorite places. I get a very physical reaction at both. Ireland is a magical place!

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  1. St. Patrick's Day: Ireland travel memories | Santa Fe TravelersSanta Fe Travelers - March 17, 2013

    […] We left our cottage for two nights in The Burren, an amazing area on the northeast of County Clare. Highlights are here in this post. […]

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