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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?